The Cook Islands will make history tomorrow when they make their first appearance at the OFC U-20 Championship at Luganville Soccer City Stadium in Santo, Vanuatu.
Although the team is new to this level of competition in the region, a number of the squad are no strangers to travelling for football.
Captain Keegan Inia, Orin Ruaine-Prattley, Michael Wood, and Samuel Maoate-Cox join the team from New Zealand and Thane Beal has travelled from Australia to represent the Cook Islands.
The squad performed well during the preliminary in Tonga back in June where they did enough to beat Samoa, Tonga and American Samoa for the sole remaining berth, but they will have to give everything they’ve got in their first match against hot favourites New Zealand.
Making things tough for the team was the loss of coach Tuka Tisam after the qualifier due to personal commitments, but they have been fortunate to have technical director Jess Ibrom, and experienced New Zealand coach Matt Calcott step into the breach.
“Jess has been doing a lot of work with a big chunk of the squad in the Cook Islands which is great,” Calcott says.
“It’s good having him on the ground navigating through things.”
The squad have had an intensive week of training since landing in Luganville on Tuesday as they prepare for a big match against the favourites New Zealand in their opener.
Following their match against New Zealand, the Cook Islands will take on Solomon Islands and Tahiti for a place in the semi-finals.
The OFC U-20 Championship is the Confederation’s premier youth competition and involves all 11 OFC Member Associations, with four competing in the Preliminary and eight in the Championship.
The 2016 tournament will be the 21st edition of this event which for the first time, offers two berths for Oceania at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
With 12 titles, former OFC Member Association Australia holds the record for the most wins in this age-group, while New Zealand, Tahiti and Fiji have also claimed regional victories over the 40-year history of the competition.
The 2016 OFC U-20 Championship will be held in Port Vila and Luganville in Vanuatu from 3-17 September 2016.
For more on Cook Islands football visit www.cookislandsfootball.com