With less than 12 hours to go until the first kick off in this year’s O-League Qualifiers, the four teams are doing their final preparations. Football in Oceania takes a closer look at the teams.
OCL Qualifiers Quick Facts:
Who: The champions of American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga
Where: Pago Pago, American Samoa
When: 20th – 26th January, teams play each other once
First match kicks off at 12:00 local time today (Saturday), 23:00 UK time or midnight in most European countries
The top two teams qualify for the Group Stage
The qualifying winner enter Group A, second place go into Group D
Pago Youth – American Samoa
“I hope all the other countries are ready because we’re coming with a bang!” – Pago Youth Coach Li’atama Amisone Jr.
The hosts have a relatively unknown squad but a couple of American Samoa internationals, Paul Collins, Ryan Samuelu and Ruben Luvu Jr., could provide valuable experience. No American Samoa team has advanced from the qualifiers but this Pago Youth squad have the potential to do so after finishing off an impressive domestic season.
They went unbeaten in the 11 league games, only drawing once, and took back to back league titles after taking the FFAS National League in 2016 as well. They also won the National Cup which seems to be done using the “boxing method”, if you beat the current holder, you yourself are the holder. They beat the current holder Utulei Youth on the opening day and then never lost it again thanks to their invincible season.
Home field advantage may also be a very handy thing to have, at least that’s what coach Li’atama Amisone Jr. believes.
“I feel great playing on home soil and I am confident in my team,” he told the OFC website.
“I hope all the other countries are ready because we’re coming with a bang!”
Team List: 1. Moimoi Tualaulelei (GK), 2. Poyer Samuelu (GK), 3. Rambo Tapui, 4. Gabriel Taumua, 5. Elama Fa’atonu, 6. Eugene Ledoux, 7. Fiatele Niuoka, 8. Ueli Tualaulelei, 9. Paul Collins, 10. Ryan Samuelu, 11. Nissan Silao, 12. Ruben Luvu Jr. 13, Harvey Manu, 14.Joe Koroiadi, 15. Tommy Amisone, 16. Roy Ledoux, 17. Pete Peters, 18. Dustin Maiava, 19. Ricky Faamoana, 20. Tafiga Faimalu
Coach: Li’atama Amisone Jr. (ASA)
Tupapa Maraerenga – Cook Islands
Trivia: They have four players born this century in their squad
The Cook Islands champions almost did the same as Pago Youth in their domestic league, but couldn’t quite manage to go unbeaten. A loss to last year’s O-League participant Puaikura on the final day saw the invincible season slip through their fingers at the last hurdle. But Tupapa should still come into this with plenty of confidence and will look to emulate what their invincible-killing opponent from home soil managed last year, winning the Qualifiers and advancing to the Group Stage.
With four players born this century in their squad, including highly rated Lee Harmon, the youthful look of Tupapa will be aided by New Zealand-based players Maro Bonsu-Maro, Tyrell Barringer-Tahiri, and Samuel Maoate-Cox. This team is highly capable of going through to the Group Stage and will probably call this campaign a success if they do.
Tupapa Maraerenga coach Alexander Napa is confident they can do just that and follow in Puaikura’s footsteps.
“Puaikura has set a high standard to follow and we don’t think it’s going to be really difficult to maintain that,” Napa told OFC.
“We just have to go out and play the good football that we know we’re capable of, and if we can do the basics right, we can get the results we’re looking for.”
Team List: 1. Sacha Nathu (GK), 2. Mii Joseph, 3. Sean Latimer, 4. Teina Savage, 5. Roimata Karika, 6. Samuel Maoate-Cox, 7. Campbell Best, 8. Lee Harmon, 9. Geoffrey Strickland, 10. Grover Harmon, 11. Maro Bonsu-Maro, 12. Willyn Karika, 13. Pachok Abba, 14. Edward Brogan, 15. Pekay Edwards, 16. Hone Fowler, 17. Tyrell Barringer-Tahiri, 20. Manaariki Pierre (GK)
Coach: Alexander Napa (COK)
- READ MORE: Qualifiers to be live streamed
Veitongo – Tonga
“Ball play and possession is the key. We will make use of our chances and not give any to them,” Veitongo Coach Timote Moleni
Spearheaded by Tonga’s national team coach Timote Moleni the Tongan side had full control on their domestic league in 2017 and won it in style. On that team, there is one particular player who stands out in terms of O-League experience. Defender Sione Uhatahi has taken part in every single qualifier since they were introduced in 2012, this year’s edition will be his seventh attempt at getting a Tongan team through to the main round.
Veitongo got incredibly close to qualifying last year when they hosted the qualifiers themselves and only missed out on goal difference to Samoa’s Lupe Ole Soaga. That could very well be the other way around this year.
Veitongo play hosts Pago Youth in the first match and coach Moleni is sure they can get a good start and intends to use a possession oriented style.
“I think we should win our first game. I’m confident we could win,” he told OFC
“Ball play and possession is the key. We will make use of our chances and not give any to them.”
Team List: 1. Semisi Otukolo (GK), 2. Sione Uhatahi, 3. Ilalio Leakona, 4. Oliveti Vai, 5. Fine Moala, 8. Laaina Tualau, 9. Tuia Falepapalangi, 10. Viliami Tukia, 11. Tupou Uhatahi, 12. Viliami Tongamana, 13. Ofa Kite, 14. Suliasi Lauhoua, 15. Sione Tuifangaloka, 16. Kilifi Faupula, 17. Soakai Vea, 18. Tevita Tukimaka, 19. Vai Lutu, 21. Siane Faupula (GK)
Coach: Timote Moleni (TGA)
Lupe Ole Soaga – Samoa
Trivia: Faafua Ataga has been registered as both a forward and a goalkeeper
Next up is the host country’s neighbour Samoa and their representative, Lupe Ole Soaga, or Lupe O le Soaga, depending on who you ask.
Last year they advanced through to the Group Stage after finishing second behind Cook Island’s representative. Despite not getting a single point in the main round they made a good impression and will hope to do the same thing this year.
There’s a couple of highly interesting players in this squad with striker Lapalapa Toni having the potential to bang in goals in this Qualifier while defender Andrew Setefano has come back from New Zealand and has plenty of experience. Finally, Solomon Island international Michael Fifi’i could dominate the midfield at this level.
Another interesting thing is that Faafua Ataga has been registered as both a forward and a goalkeeper, that could make for some interesting tactical options for coach Paul Ualesi.
“My boys are all looking forward to the challenge in Pago and we have worked hard on the areas that we needed to improve before the kick-off,” Ualesi told OFC.
Team List: 1. Faalavelave Matagi (GK), 2. Vaalii Faalogo 3. Spencer Keli, 4. Vito Laloata, 5. Tauati Tanoai, 6. Michael Fifi’i, 7. Lawrie Letutusa, 8. Darren Alatina Talilai, 9. Samuelu Malo, 10. Lapalapa Toni, 11. Suivai Ataga, 12. Kareti Soafa, 13. Vaa Taualai, 14. Albert Bell, 15. Faafua Ataga, 16. Andrew Setefano, 17. Ken Kerewi, 18. Bird Vagaia, 19. Cihan Erbil, 20. Luki Gosche, 21. Kevin Ah Kuoi, 22. Eti Fatu (GK), 23. Johnwesley Teo
Coach: Paul Ualesi (SAM)
Football in Oceania wishes the participants the best of luck. As a bonus, the OFC announced that the qualifiers will be live streamed. More on that here.