As the teams gear up for the opening day of the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship on Friday it is clear there is a drive to push women’s football in Oceania further.
Last month’s OFC U-19 Women’s Championship showed that although the chase to catch New Zealand continues, there has been some great development among the other participating nations.
At U-16 level the expectation is similar especially after the showing at this level in 2016, when Fiji finished in the top three for the first time, while several other nations made their debuts.
On Friday, American Samoa will turn out for the first time at this level of competition and their first test will be a tough one.
Ruth Tuato’o will lead a fresh-faced group of young girls in Samoa and although it is the team’s international debut in this level of competition, the opportunities for women’s football on the American territory are growing.
“It’s been ten years since we brought put a team in the women’s side of things so it’s a new beginning for all us and just putting together a team to compete has been a challenge.”
Toato’o said the team has come together well over the last few months and since coming together in Samoa ahead of the competition, the atmosphere has been great and they’re now just waiting to get underway.
“The girls are getting along well and I want to say we’re well prepared for this.”
But their opponents Fiji are currently experiencing a period of success in the women’s game after finishing second for the first time at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship in July and third in 2016 at the OFC U-17 Women’s Championship, the expectations are high.
Led by Marika Rodu, who was also in charge of Fiji club-side Rewa when they made their OFC Champions League debut earlier this year, the team has been working hard in training and hope to follow the lead of their older peers by finishing on the podium.
Rodu has spent four months in camp with his side and the difference between day one and now is immense.
“The capability of my girls was a challenge for me initially,” the OFC A Licence candidate said.
“I’ve coached men for more than ten year and taking up this role has been a bit challenge. It’s been an effort to gel them together and now they understand how I work, we’re now a better team compared to the first day.”
The second Group B match on Friday will see Cook Islands meet Tonga in what will be a challenge for both sides.
A recent friendly against Tahiti during their build-up saw Cook Islands take a win and a loss away, and highlighted areas coach Theresa Tatuava can work on with her squad before the competition kicks-off.
“We’re well prepared for the tournament, the girls are ready to get into it,” Tatuava said.
“Our biggest challenge in preparing has been that we come from a small island and we don’t have a huge population of girls in this age group we can choose from.”
Despite the challenge, Tatuava can still boast experience in her squad with six of the team having already appeared in the 2016 edition of this tournament, and she also knows that her players are dedicated.
“They were 13-14 back then and have just turned 15 years old, so they’re among the group of girls who stand out in the team.
“And because of the challenge with numbers, we have prepared the girls who were committed, passionate and wanting to advance their football skills,” she added.
“They’re ready to compete. They’re prepared, they’re excited and ready to get into the tournament.”
Tonga meanwhile has a strong squad which includes eight U-19 representatives including the always impressive Seini Lutu, striker Mele Kafa and New Zealand-based Carmel Uhila.
This trio alone have at least two OFC women’s qualifying tournaments under their belts giving the side an edge over many of their opponents here in Samoa.
American Samoa vs. Fiji
J.S. Blatter Football Complex
Referee: Rani PERRY (TAH)
Assistant Referee 1: Hillary OSBOURN (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Vaihina TEURA (TAH)
Fourth Official: Arnold TARI (VAN)
Vital Statistics: American Samoa have never fielded a team in an OFC U-17 or U-16 tournament to date, making this their debut international match at this level.
Coach Quote: “The girls we brought over have been training for a couple of months together so we’re really excited to kick-off this first match with Fiji.”
Team List: 1. Maraea NAUTU (GK), 2. Maricar PARUNGO, 3. Nancy SATELE, 4. Jane FAUMUINA, 5. Princess FEGAUIA’I, 6. Aileen IEREMIA, 7. Mercy SEIU, 8. Diedra STEFFANY, 9. Blanche HERRERA, 10. Elcy NAOLAVOA, 11. Oloataua TOFAEONO, 12. Agnes SIAOSI, 13. Lima MAUGA, 14. Jodynn LIU-KUEY, 15. Faafeu AMISONE, 16. Olyann TA’ASE, 17. Jessica SATELE, 18. Mykaela PAOLO, 19. Lourdes AFOA, 23. Zena FOMA’I (GK)
Coach: Ruth TUATO’O (ASA)
Vital Statistics: On their first appearance at the OFC U-17 Championship in 2016, Fiji finished third after an impressive series of matches.
Coach Quote: “We’re opening against American Samoa but we don’t know how they’ll play. They could be a good team, they could be a better team than us. We need to stay disciplined, focused and more organised when we go out and play.”
Team List: 1. Seru VASUITOGA (GK), 2. Avisaki TORO, 3. Viniana BUKE, 4. Sovaia RANADI, 5. Eseta SINUKULA, 6. Amelia CEVARIKI, 7. Tabua LIKUMOTOVAI, 8. Kelera RADINICALIA, 9. Losana BAINIVALU, 10. Fatima TABUANITOGA, 11. Harina ERASITO, 12. Titilia WAQABACA, 13. Emily ROKOCIRI, 14. Alisi QEREQERETABUA, 15. Luisiana LAGILEVU, 16. Dilaisana DRODROLAGI, 17. Vani BAINIVALU, 18. Ulita ALFRED, 19. Filomena RACEA (GK), 20. Raijel PASIRIO (GK)
Coach: Marika RODU (FIJ)
Cook Islands vs. Tonga
J.S. Blatter Football Complex
Referee: Ben AUKAWI (SOL)
Assistant Referee 1: Maria SALAMASINA (SAM)
Assistant Referee 2: Heloise SIMONS (NZL)
Fourth Official: Fina ANGELO (VAN)
Vital Statistics: 2017 is Cook Islands third appearance in this competition with their best finish a third in 2012.
Coach Quote: “We’ve never seen the Tongan team play, we don’t know much about them. But our focus on our preparation rather than how other teams play. We have set our goals and that’s to develop our girls, prepare them for this tournament and challenge any team whether they’re better or not.”
Team List: 1. Dora IRIPA (GK), 2. Lyric DAVISON, 3. Teretia TEINAKI, 4. Ngame TARINGA, 5. Tia TUIVAGA, 6. Esther POTORU, 7. Piri MURARE, 8. Tehinnah TATUAVA, 9. Viorangi KITE, 10. Keana MAAKA, 11. Merran MUNRO, 12. Nathalia VIKING, 13. Tepaeru NGAROI, 14. Eitiare TANGIRERE, 15. Alma NGAMETUA, 16. Ngarangi MAPU
Coach: Theresa TATUAVA (COK)
Vital Statistics: Tonga are also making their third appearance in this competition. They just missed out on the semi-finals in 2016 after finishing third in their group behind New Zealand and New Caledonia.
Coach Quote: “We have eight players from the U-19 and maybe that’s what makes me comfortable with my team ahead of our match against Cook Islands.”
Team List: 1. Mele AHOME’E (GK), 2. Ofa FISI, 3. Mele KAFA, 4. Laveni VAKA, 5. Siunipa TALASINGA, 6. Carmel ‘UHILA, 7. Florence HAKALO, 8. Seini LUTU, 9. Ana POLOVILI, 10. Lositika FEKE, 11. Taipaleti VAI, 12. Kaloaine TONGA, 13. Mele TU’ITAVUKI, 14. Malia OTUKOLO, 15. Ofa ATAONGO, 16. Luseane ‘AKOLO, 17. Mafi PASIKALA, 18. Mele ‘AHO, 19. Keleni TAUKAPO (GK), 20. Kaloaine TOPUI (GK)
Coach: Lafaele MOALA (TGA)