The messages haven’t stopped coming since 15-year-old Tongan footballer Tama’a Faletau scored all five goals in her side’s brilliant 5-1 win in the opening match of the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship on Saturday.
The young attacker showcased her full array of skills in a scintillating performance that set the tournament alight.
OFC Media sat down with Tama’a to find out more about her journey in football which only began when she was 12.
She grew up on the Island of Okoa Vava’u and attends Vava’u High School where she is a form 5 student. One of three children, her older sister Fakaola Mei Langi ihe moui is 21 and her younger brother Penisimani is 11.
As a youngster Faletau different sports.
“When I was growing up, I wasn’t very good at playing football, so I was playing athletics and rugby.” Faletau said.
And she has enjoyed plenty of success on the Athletics track winning inter college gold medals in the 400 metres 200 metres and 100 metres hurdles.
In 2020 the Heilala Manongi rolled out all over Tonga, (Tongatapu, Eua, Ha’apai and Vava’u. This was a special project for women’s football funded by FIFA. It was aimed at increasing participation in football by young girls.
The Heilala Manongi targeted girls aged from 12 to 15, with three sessions every week and monitored everyday by the Women’s Development Officer. This was where Tama’a discovered her love of football.
A Major Championship was held on the main island of Tongatapu and Tama’a was the captain of one of two teams from Vava’u. Her team finished second runner up.
Her Auntie was working at the Tongan Football Association and encouraged her and motivated her to keep playing football. Her parents recognised she was doing better and developing her football skills and encouraged her to play football rather than rugby.
Faletau’s talent was recognised earlier this year when she was picked to represent Tonga for the first time, at the OFC U-19 Championship in Fiji in June and July.
Faletau’s experience in Fiji inspired her to “encourage my siblings who are not playing sport to join in, to promote a healthy lifestyle but also because football is just amazing.” She said.
It’s been a hectic last few days for the shy teenager whose phone has been running hot since her opening game heroics in Papeete.
“ I did receive a lot of messages from friends and my parents. They are very proud of motivating me to keep going in football.”
Faletau dreams of one day playing professionally to provide for her family.
“Playing football is something to help the way we live at home, not only to support my parents’ standard of living but also to encourage girls to be more engaged with football.”
Faletau acknowledges she still has a lot to learn in the game and while she has a keen eye for goal, she is right footed and needs to work on being stronger off the left.
“I will be working hard in training and trying to become more creative.”