By: Vincent van der Put
Guest writer Vincent van der Put takes you through each of the four teams and gives you everything you need to know ahead of the O-League qualifier kicking off in an hour’s time in the Cook Islands.
Kiwi FC – Samoa
After a two-year absence, Samoan side Kiwi FC is back. The last time they participated, in 2016, they survived the Qualification stage with three wins out of three games. This year, the only goal is to repeat that result from 2016. Kiwi won the Samoan National League last year on goal difference against their big local rival Lupe Ole Soaga.
When we look at their squad, they have a bunch of experience, with the likes of Andrew Setefano, Jarrell Sale, Lionel Taylor, Silao Malo and Paulo Scanlan. Besides that they have a few import player like Federico Diaz, Ken Kerewi and former Ecuadorian youth international Adrian Cedeno Mera.
After the successful tournament of Samoa U17 last year in the Solomon Islands, with a historic draw against New Caledonia, Kiwi decided to take some young players from that squad, with the likes of Falaniko Nanumea, Tavita To’o and Semu Faimata. Faimata is the youngest player of the tournament, the goalkeeper is just 15-years-old.
After talking about all these players maybe we have forgotten one of the most important ones. At 19-years-old he is not an experienced player, but after already being in the first team for almost four years, we can’t call him a talent either.
The name… Samuelu Malo, watch this young man.
Expected postion: 2nd
Experienced player: Andrew Setefano
Player to watch: Samuelu Malo
Talent to watch: Falaniko Nanumea.
Lotoha’apai United – Tonga
After being away for quite some years, the club with the most domestic championships in Tonga is finally back. Veitongo FC were the champions for the last couple of years but this year Lotoha’apai took the champion’s crown. Since the last time, the qualification round was introduced, and a Tongan club has never managed to come through the qualifiers.
Maybe this is the year for Tonga. Last year the Tonga U20 team managed to come through the qualifiers and Lotoha’apai has brought in some of those players with the likes of Tuia Falepapalangi, goalkeeper Semisi Otukolo and midfielder Vai Lutu. As the Tonga national team has set their eyes on the future with bringing in a lot of young players as seen at the 2017 Pacific Mini Games, Lotoha’apai has followed their footsteps.
Beside the U20 players, some former youth players like strikers Soakai Vea and Hemaloto Polovili and defenders Oliveti Vai and Simi Moimoi are in the squad. The squad has been fully made up of Tongan players, so they can show the brightness of Tonga’s football future.
Expected position: 3rd.
Experienced player: Sione Uhatahi
Player to watch: Soakai Vea
Talent to watch: Tuia Falepapalangi
Pago Youth – American Samoa
What to expect from Pago Youth? If we look at the last couple of years, it is difficult to create a positive image of the chances that Pago Youth have to continue to the next round. However, when you look further than that and look deeper into the squad, then there are definitely some players who could be an eyecatcher.
The squad has not many experienced players but a few names catch your eye. Central defender Liatama Amisone Jr and striker Rambo Tapui where both a member of the American Samoa national team back in 2011, when they were very successful under the guidance of Dutch coach Thomas Rongen. Those players, together with defender Ryan Samuelu will have to take care of the young players that are in this squad. Tapui, has been in top form the last few months in the FFAS Senior League, with winning the title for most valuable player.
The young players are goalkeeper Hengihengi Ikuvalu, who was the number 1 of the national under 17 team of American Samoa last year. Despite his young age of barely 16 he seems to be the number one goalkeeper. Two other young talents which look to have a bright futures are midfielder Milo Tiatia and the multifunctional Walter Pati. Both players are just 16 and especially Walter Pati who can play almost everywhere on the pitch, defence, midfield AND attack, was a standout last year for the U17’s.
Pago Youth will miss Gabriel Taumua, the biggest talent in American Samoa, who is not in the squad.
Expected position: 4th
Experienced player: Liatama Amisone Jr.
Player to watch: Rambo Tapui
Talent to watch: Walter Pati
Tupapa Maraerenga – Cook Islands
Tupapa Maraerenga, the big favourites? If we chose to believe the words of Kiwi FC’s head coach Martin Tamasese, Tupapa Maraerenga are the big favourites. Yes, the team is playing on their home ground, and yes, the club has recruited a lot of overseas players who have experienced in the New Zealand football leagues and the Cook Islands national football team.
But just four of the players are foreign. A lot of players who have been brougt in have Cook Islands nationality but have always played in New Zealand. Tupapa has by far the most experienced squad with players like Mii Joseph, Tyrell Baringer-Tahiri, Harlem Simiona and Grover Harmon, just to name a few.
With Tupapa it is searching for some talented players, but they are present: midfielders Lee Harmon and Willynn Karika and goalkeeper Manaariki Pierre.
Expected position: 1st
Experienced player: Mii Joseph
Player to watch: Harlem Simiona
Talent to watch: Lee Harmon
Football in Oceania wants to wish all participating teams the best of luck!