Cook Islands’ women footballers looking for final hurrah

Photo: Cook Islands FA

The Cooks Islands women’s footballers hope to complete their fairytale run in the Oceania U-19 championships with a win over Samoa at the weekend.

The team reached the semi-finals after drawing 0-0 with Tahiti and beating Solomon Islands 1-0 to reach the knockout stages.

In their quarter-final against Vanuatu last weekend, Hereatea Mapu’s close-range header with 25 minutes remaining was the decisive moment in securing a 2-1 victory.

Their unbeaten run came to an end on Wednesday with a 5-0 defeat to reigning champions New Zealand in Suva. Goalkeeper Kimberley Uini was awarded the player of the match honour for keeping the score down.

Head coach Tuka Tisam said the team has performed magnificently in Fiji, and they hope to go out on another high.

“This whole tournament I’ve been extremely proud of the girls and their performances. Proud for what they’ve done for themselves, for the team and for the country and their families back home,” he said.

“They have put in great performances all tournament. Against New Zealand, they are a top quality side, and so it was always going to be very hard to get a result against them. We’re now looking for the third position on Saturday.

“It’s been a tremendous week, great performances from all the girls.”

Tisam said the squad trained hard for the tournament with training sessions three times a week and several games to get them match fit. He said he focused a lot on defence and that showed during the tournament, with only one goal conceded in the first three games.

Even the 5-0 defeat by the Junior Football Ferns should be seen in context, as the Kiwis defeated Solomon Islands 19-0 in the quarter-finals.

Players and coaches celebrate after the Cook Islands' win

Players and coaches celebrate after the Cook Islands’ win over Vanuatu Photo: OFC Media via Phototek

It’s the Cook Islands’ best run since they finished second in what was then the Oceania U-20 championship in 2010.

Tisam said the squad is made up mostly of home-grown players with one player based in New Zealand, and another from Australia, who is part of the Queensland Football Academy.

He said some players have already played for the senior women’s team and several others have the potential to do so.

After the weekend’s game against Samoa, the coach and his players will return home and begin to prepare for a friendly game against Tahiti in six weeks.

In the tournament final, which follows the Cook Islands-Samoa game, New Zealand face hosts Fiji in the final at the HFC Bank Stadium in Suva.

The Kiwis defeated their foes 3-0 in the group stage. Fiji defeated Samoa 3-1 to reach the final.

New Zealand have won the U-20/U-19 championship seven times since 2006 with only Australia breaking their dominance with a pair of wins before the national football federation joined the Asian Confederation.

Action from the Cook Islands (in green) quarter-final match against Vanuatu.

Action from the Cook Islands (in green) quarter-final match against Vanuatu. Photo: Kirk Corrie/phototek

Source: RNZ