Photo Credit OFC Media (from left to right: Samoa captain Andrew Setefano, Head Coach Ravinesh Kumar, Tonga captain Hemaloto Polovili Head Coach Kilifi Uele, Cook Islands Head Coach Jess Ibrom and captain Grover Harmon at the OFC Men’s Nations Cup 2024 – Qualifying, pre-tournament media conference in Nuku’alofa).

All three teams have been talking up their chances of qualifying for June’s OFC Men’s Nations Cup in Vanuatu, on the eve of the Qualifying tournament in Tonga.

Host nation Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands will battle over the next week in Nuku’alofa for a place at the OFC showpiece tournament in Vanuatu.

The nature of the OFC Men’s Nations Cup 2024 – Qualifying is cut-throat, just three match days, starting with Tonga against Samoa tomorrow.

Speaking at the pre-tournament media conference held at the TFA Academy, Tongan Head Coach Kilifi Uele expressed confidence in his group of players.

“We’ve prepared hard to showcase what we are capable of and our strength. And if our players stick to our game plan, we have a huge potential to win the matches and achieve a performance in this tournament,” Uele said.

His captain Hemaloto Polovili echoed Uele’s thoughts and felt the home crowd would give them a huge boost.

“I think that’s a great opportunity. We need to win this tournament,” Polovili said.

The bulk of the Tongan squad hail from Veitongo FC who have dominated club football in the Kingdom but Uele has also included several youngsters who bring a real hunger and desire to the team environment.

(Photo Credit OFC Media: Tonga captain Hemaloto Polovili and coach Kilifi Uele at the OFC Nations Cup Qualifier pre-tournament Media Conference in Nuku’alofa)

Samoa come in as favourite, an assertion based on their history, and also the success of their club champions Vaivase Tai FC who won the OFC Men’s Champions League – Qualifying at the same venue last month. Numerous players from that tournament are lining up for their national teams this week.

However, Samoa Head Coach Ravinesh Kumar is loath to draw comparisons to the OFC Men’s Champions League – Qualifying last month.

“We can’t compare a club tournament with the national team tournament. That was a different tournament where the clubs were the winners of their club championships. Here the best players of the clubs are making up the national side So, this competition there are higher expectations than in the Club Championship,” Kumar said.

Kumar who is also the FFS Technical Director, has picked a squad containing a mixture of youth and experience. He has selected several U-19 players with an eye towards the OFC U-19 Men’s Championship, which Samoa is hosting in July.

(Photo Credit OFC Media: Samoa captain Andrew Setefano and coach Ravinesh Kumar at the OFC Nations Cup Qualifier pre-tournament Media Conference in Nuku’alofa)

The Fijian born coach is wary of the Tongan side whom Samoa play first up.

“Tonga is the host and they have prepared well, and they are playing in front of their own crowd. Nevertheless, every team who comes in for the senior competition, they come in to win. And we are also prepared here to give our best performance in this competition to qualify for the Nation’s Cup finals.”

The Cook Islands have arrived in Tonga with the underdog tag bestowed upon them but don’t tell their New Zealand based coach Jess Ibrom.

(Photo Credit OFC Media: Cook Islands coach Jess Ibrom at the pre-tournament Media Conference in Nuku’alofa)

He has assembled a squad containing the best players with Cook Islands heritage, residing in New Zealand, Australia, and Rarotonga. The side spent last weekend in Auckland playing local club sides to prepare for the task ahead.

“We’ve prepared as best as we can, in terms of our domestic based training program for our national team, alongside our overseas players as well. We have cast our net quite wide. This is important for us, as it is probably for every football nation, we must be quite creative in terms of looking for players, not just from within the Cook Islands with those that hold heritage outside the Cook Islands but are able to represent our country.

“So, it’s an evolving model really for us. But one of the advantages I feel that we have is the fact that we are a small member Association, we are a small country. And we’re always trying to develop our player pool. Make no mistake, we’re here to win games of football, it’s as simple as that. We have a very good group of players; we have a good blend of very experienced players of some very good younger players that have got some tremendous potential.”

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