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Monday 14 November 2011 | Published in Regional


Former All Whites midfielder Shane Rufer, brother of OFC Player of the Century Wynton, has taken charge of the Cook Islands national football team and will lead the country through its qualifying campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The 51-year-old arrived in Rarotonga last month to assume the role and replaces previous head coach, and fellow former All White, Maurice Tillotson, who guided the Cook Islands at the XIV Pacific Games in New Caledonia during August and September. Rufer is preparing his charges for the preliminary stage of the OFC Nations Cup, a tournament which takes place in Samoa from November 22 to 26 and doubles as the first stage of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup. He says preparations are running smoothly and the full squad will be brought together shortly. We have a team of 12 players based here in Rarotonga, Rufer says.

We will meet with the eight overseas-based players soon and it will be up to them to push for a place in the starting line-up. The Cook Islands will meet hosts Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga at the event and have been installed by some observers as favourites to progress to the next stage.

This expectation stems from the fact that only they and American Samoa have enjoyed international action recently having both taken part in the Pacific Games.

American Samoa failed to pick up a win in New Caledonia but the Cooks did manage to do so, defeating Kiribati 3-0. Rufer does not feel his men carry the mantle of favourites though and is keen to pass that burden on to the hosts. Playing at home is a big advantage in football, he says.

Samoa, with home advantage, are the favourites. It will be up to us, American Samoa and Tonga to overcome this.

But the new man in charge thinks the hosts will not be the only difficult side to beat. American Samoa will have learned a lot from their experience at the Pacific Games while Tonga has historically always been a tough opponent for the Cook Islands.

Rufer comes to Rarotonga with an impressive CV, having played professionally in Switzerland before embarking on a coaching career that began with player-coach roles at club level before a stint as assistant coach of the New Zealand Under 17 team in 1997. He went on to mentor the Solomon Islands Under 20 team before assisting brother Wynton with the coaching of the Football Kingz, New Zealands representatives in the now-defunct Australian national league.

He also led Young Heart Manawatu for several seasons in the New Zealand national league and has been heavily involved in the WYNRS School of Excellence, a youth development programme he established with Wynton in 1997. Rufer is pleased to be opening a new chapter in his coaching career and says the Cook Islands role has offered some unique challenges.

You need to study, learn, adapt and relocate. Then you have to examine the players - looking at their availability, injuries, strengths and weaknesses - and form a team. And you have to do all this in a short period of time.

He feels good progress is being made in the development of football in the Pacific, thanks largely to the efforts of OFC and the FIFA Goal Project, an initiative by the governing body to help associations around the world improve their facilities. All the nations in the Oceania confederation have had access to the FIFA Goal Project, which has resulted in the building of facilities needed to develop football, he says. That is fantastic for football in this part of the world.