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Cooks embrace underdog tag

Monday 7 March 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Soccer, Sports


Cooks embrace underdog tag
The Rarotonga-based players and officials at the Rarotonga International Airport before leaving the country on Saturday. PHOTO: TOKOA HARMON/22030617

As the only unranked nation attending the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ OFC preliminary competition, Cook Islands head coach Alan Taylor says he’s happy for his squad to remain under the radar ahead of their attempt to qualify through as Oceania’s representative for the intercontinental play-off.

The Cook Islands have been drawn in Group A of the tournament in Qatar, avoiding the need to play a must-win play-off with Tonga to decide who qualified for the tournament proper, due to the Kingdom withdrawing in the wake of January’s natural disaster which devastated much of Tonga.

They’ll now open their campaign against the Solomon Islands – Oceania’s second-highest ranked side in the FIFA World Rankings behind New Zealand – before taking on Tahiti and Vanuatu.

The Rarotonga-based players left the country for Doha on Saturday.

Taylor said the pressure is off his group, with the expectation that they’ll be viewed as outsiders in all of their matches.

“It is understood we are the unranked team and that it is a big challenge no matter who we play,” Taylor said.

“The Solomons are very good and are well coached and they all come out of the Solomons and train together.

“The same can be said for Tahiti, who predominantly come from a couple of clubs and know each other very well.

“They’ve also been in France for some warm-up games. Vanuatu, history says they are very good when they are on their game too.”

Travel restrictions created by the pandemic mean a large portion of the Cook Islands squad will meet each other for the first time in Qatar, days ahead of their tournament-opener against the Solomons.

Eight members of the squad are set to travel from New Zealand, along with four from Australia and one from the United Kingdom, with even coach Taylor yet to meet many of them.

“I haven’t got to travel and see most of my players due to Covid, so I am relying on the reports I am getting back from people,” Taylor said.

“But we have some guys playing high-quality football in Australia and New Zealand.”

The squad consists of the following: Rarotonga-based: Grover Harmon (Tupapa Maraerenga FC), Anthony Samuela (Tupapa Maraerenga FC), Avi Enoka (Tupapa Maraerenga FC), Tahiri Elikana (Nikao Sokattak FC), Toru Mateariki (Nikao Sokattak FC), Tamaiva Mateariki (Nikao Sokattak FC), Dwayne Tiputoa (Puaikura FC), Jarves Aperau (Puaikura FC); New Zealand-based: Daryl Areai, Lee Harmon, Ben Mata, Ishaq Nazeem, Maro Bonsu-Maro, Harlem Simiona, Orin Ruaine-Prattley, Emiel Burrows; Sydney-based: Kerim Kumsuz, Ismail Hadife, Taylor Saghabi; Melbourne-based: Thane Beal and London-based: Tyrrell Barringer-Tahiri. Management Team: Alan Taylor (Coach), Paul Farrell-Turepu (Manager), Teina Savage (Assistant Manager), Dr. Teariki Puni (Doctor) and Gareth O’Loughlin (Physio).

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Brett HANNAH on 07/03/2022

Hey Alan let me know if you want me to keep an eye on the Sydney based players :) Meitaki Brett