Tonga sensation Seini Lutu burst onto the international scene as a quiet but hugely talented 13-year-old in the Tonga team participating in the OFC U-20 Women’s Championship back in 2014.
Four years later Lutu has completed her debut at a FIFA tournament cementing herself as a key player for Tonga in their performances at the Youth Olympic Games women’s futsal tournament, so much so she has been rewarded with the honour of being named Tonga’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremony.
The 17-year-old said it is a great honour for which she is incredibly grateful.
“To carry the flag of your country means you did a great job for your country. For me I wonder what I have done, but I am incredibly appreciative of being given this honour,” Lutu said.
“I will carry the Tongan flag with pride.”
Her first introduction to structured football was as an eight-year-old taking part in the OFC Just Play Programme. Her love for the game blossomed and at every available chance she would be finding a way to play football either with her friends or her cousins, or on her own practicing her juggling.
It is this passion for the game which has driven her success and since her regional debut in 2014 she has grown with every competition she’s competed in – and there have been a few.
Lutu has represented Tonga in two further U-20 women’s campaigns, two OFC U-17 Women’s Championships and the Pacific Mini Games with the senior national women’s team.
Her consistent and game-changing performances in the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship in Auckland last year led to an offer of a scholarship with Macleans College in Auckland, New Zealand. It’s allowed her to hone her football skills both at school level in the First XI and with her club Fencibles United.
With her football and education commitments keeping her busy, Lutu still somehow managed to find the time to make a very successful switch to futsal, representing Tonga at the OFC Youth Futsal Tournament in October 2017, where the team finished runners-up which eventually led Lutu and her teammates to Buenos Aires and the Youth Olympic Games.
Her outstanding performances across the course of Tonga’s four matches, although she missed the Spain game due to suspension, in Argentina saw Lutu capture the attention not only of her friends and family back home in Tonga, but of the entire Oceania region.
The 17-year-old became the first Tongan to score in a FIFA tournament when she found the back of the net against Bolivia in Tonga’s opening match. She went off injured but came back just as hard against Trinidad and Tobago, a match Tonga came so close to winning, with Lutu’s hat-trick playing a big part. A second yellow card saw her miss the final four minutes of the match, which is when Trindidad and Tobago were finally able to separate themselves from Tonga for good to go on and win the match 7-5.
Against Spain Lutu didn’t feature, and it’s perhaps telling that without their talisman Tonga struggled against the Europeans who saw them off 8-0, their biggest loss in the competition and the only match in which Tonga didn’t manage to score.
The final game saw Lutu return to the starting line-up against a tough Thailand that kept the Tongans on the back-foot for the entire game. However there was one moment of brilliance that once again elevated the talents of Lutu as she struck the final goal in a 9-1 loss to their Asian opponents.