Photo Credit: OFC Media via Christophe Fotozz

The Cook Islands well and truly punched above its weight at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship earlier this year in Fiji. The tiny South Pacific nation reached the semi-finals in July and now the U-16 team is motivated to achieve similar success in Tahiti.

The Cooks take on tournament favourites New Zealand in their opening match at Stade Pater in Papeete this afternoon before Fiji face Vanuatu in Group B.

For Cook Islands coach Tupou Brogan the tournament presents a wonderful opportunity for her players who have spent the best part of four months preparing.

“We have some of the girls from the Under 19s in this group. Their presence will help give confidence to their teammates and they experience they have gone through will help motivate the players. Our goal going forward is to just keep our heads up and play as a team.”

“There’s a lot of energy in the squad and they mingle well, and they have a lot of trust in each other. They have each other’s back on the field.”

New Zealand coach Leon Birnie was a late addition to the Kiwi side following the departure of Nathalie Lawrence. Birnie was at the helm of the side that won the OFC U-19 Championship in Fiji.  But this is a very different challenge.

“I’ve come in with a good group of staff to support these girls and help them progress and develop across the tournament. And hopefully, at the end they qualify. It’s not like other age groups where you can do a little bit of scouting, everyone’s new.”

“So our focus for this tournament will clearly be on us. It’ll be about us as a team. It’s about the girls as individuals getting to know them. I’ve heard some good wraps around some of these girls. So I’m quite excited to see them out there performing.”