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Cook Islands aims to conquer OFC Qualifiers, despite underdog status

Tuesday 19 March 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Football, Sports


Cook Islands aims to conquer OFC Qualifiers, despite underdog status
The Cook Islands national men’s football team arrived in Tonga over the weekend. Photo Credit: TFA Media 24031807

Cook Islands national men’s football team has landed on Tongan soil with a singular, burning ambition – to conquer the OFC Nations Cup Qualifying stage and progress into the OFC Men’s Nations Cup scheduled for June.

The national side will play against Tonga and Samoa. The winner of this tournament will feature in the main draw in June against Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, and Fiji in Group B. Hosts Vanuatu, New Zealand, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia are placed in Group A.

Guided by the visionary head coach Jess Ibrom, a man whose strategic acumen is matched only by his unwavering belief in his team, the squad left Rarotonga last Monday.

United by purpose and passion, they assembled with their international comrades in Auckland, transforming a four-day camp into a crucible of determination and tactical refinement.

It was there, on the pitches of New Zealand, that the Cook Islands team tested their mettle with a pair of friendly matches.

Team manager Paul Allsworth said “Our first warm up match against Eastern Suburbs went very well” where the team showcased a symphony of skill and coordination.

Allsworth also commented on the teams second match stating: “The second warm up match against Fencibles United was another good opportunity for all local and overseas players to play together in different combinations.”

The encounter with Fencibles United further galvanised the team, weaving together the tapestry of local and international talent into a formidable force.

The team began training in December 2023, where the seeds of their exhaustive training regimen were planted.

With the scouting ethics of Russ Gurr and Alistair McLae, Cook Islanders abroad were identified with some players travelling to the Rarotonga to trial out for the team.

Cook Islands arrived in Tonga over the weekend with the underdog tag bestowed upon them.

Coach Ibrom told OFC Media: “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.”

Despite the odds stacked against them, Ibrom said they were in the tournament to win.

“Make no mistake, we’re here to win games of football, it’s as simple as that,” he said.

“We have a very good group of players; we have a good blend of very experienced players and some very good younger players that have got some tremendous potential.”

Cook Islands will take on Samoa on Friday at 3pm (Cook Islands time), followed by the battle against Tonga slated for Monday, March 25, at 3pm (Cook Islands time).

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 coach Ravinesh Kumar is loath to draw comparisons to the OFC 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 in this competition there are higher expectations than in the Club Championship.” Kumar said.

Kumar has picked a squad containing a mixture of youth and experience. He has selected several U19 players with an eye towards the OFC U-19 Men’s Championship, which Samoa is hosting in July.

  • CIFA Media/OFC Media