(Sibling Rivalry: Sisters, Foerina & Tusalava Roma Finau, Grace & Sariah Taeoalii, and Tamani & Arianna Skeers are part of the Samoan squad)
The Samoan squad at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship in Fiji have spent much of the past week getting to know each other.
The squad came together in Auckland for a week-long training camp before travelling to Lautoka over the weekend. It’s a team made up of players from Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States and remarkably includes three pairs of siblings.
Attacking midfielders Sariah and Grace Taeaoulii hail from just outside Salt Lake City, Utah in the US and are eligible to represent Samoa through their grandfather. They are two of six American based players in the squad.
17-year-old Sariah says “Our grandpa is full Samoan; our dad is half Samoan, so we are quarter. We have another sister Faith who is 19 and she played when she was 13 on the Samoa U-16 Samoa team and from there, we kept messaging and kept in touch. Covid interrupted everything.”
“It’s super exciting to be picked. Last year for the Women’s Nations Cup I wasn’t old enough, but Sariah and Faith were, so I still came to watch, so it’s super fun to know I can now compete with them,” Grace added.
Tusalava Roma Finau and Foerina Roma Finau are sisters from Apia who both play as central defenders. They are two of just six Samoa based players in the squad.
19-year-old Tusalava says they have come together as a team and have shown their Kiwi, American and Australian based teammates a lot of respect. 14-year-old Foerina added, “I would like to say thank you for the opportunity, the girls are beautiful and it’s good to know them.”
Tusalava says she’s motivated by the exploits of 13-year-old Florencina Khalifa who scored the only goal for Kiwi FC at the recent OFC Women’s Champions League tournament in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
“I was thinking that was me, so when I watched the game, I felt like it was me at that time and it’s inspiring.”
Brisbane based sisters Ariana and Tamani Skeers have relished their first opportunity to represent Samoa. They are both midfielders although Ariana has the versatility to play in defence as well.
Passport issues saw 16-year-old Arianna arrive a day after her 14-year-old sister Tamani.
“It’s been fun. Everyone’s really welcoming and especially because I came here a day before my sister. I was nervous but everyone was nice at the airport when I flew in,” Tamani said.
“I also arrived a day late to the training camp in Auckland, but I feel like when I got there, everyone was already getting to know each other, getting along and they just put their arm around me and brought me in. I think we’ve clicked,” Ariana added.
The siblings were unanimous in highlighting their families, particularly their dads in providing the inspiration for them to play and continue playing football.
Immersing themselves in the Samoan culture has been a key part of the preparation for Sariah, Grace, and the other American based players in the team.
“All the Samoan girls keep teaching us words and I love it; they teach us words like ‘oi valea’ which means ‘you stupid’! and they have taught us a Samoan dance, it was cool,” Sariah Taeaoulii reflected.
Head coach Juan Chang Urrea was born in Germany, grew up in Guatemala and lives in Christchurch. So what’s in been like for him bringing such a diverse group of players together?
“It’s a quick turnaround but we just must be ready for opportunities like this. If you are not learning you are not ready,” Chang Urrea said.
“Everyone’s been great, it is a challenge, and we are taking things one day at a time. It’s a massive opportunity not just for me but for the girls to show what they can do on the field. We are blessed to be here and are looking forward to watching the team play, representing their families, their heritage, and also the country.” He added.
Samoa kick off their campaign against New Caledonia in the opening game of the tournament on Wednesday in Lautoka and play further Group A games against Tonga and Vanuatu.