Forty of Tonga’s top footballers have gathered at the Loto-Tonga Soccer Centre in Tongatapu this week to take part in the first nationwide camp since trials began in April.
Players representing Vava’u, Ha’apai and the main island of Tongatapu have been named in the wider training squad, which is currently being led by interim coach and Tonga Football Association Technical Director, Kilifi Uele.
Uele will run the technical side of the camp, with Adelaide Tu’ivailala, TFA Women’s Development Officer, and Palu Uhatahi-Tuamoheloa, TFA Head of Social Responsibility, will be doing capacity building and other exercises to strengthen bonds between the players and build team culture.
The official opening of the camp was attended by TFA President, Lord Ve’ehala, senior Vice-President Fetu’u Vea, and General Secretary, Lui ‘Aho.
The objectives for the team have been outlined from day one, with the a key underlying message of:
“The will to succeed is important, but what is more important is the will to prepare“.
Former Australia captain Connie Selby has been named as head coach, and is expected to make her way to Tonga to join her new squad next month.
Tu’ivailala said the decision to bring in the former head of women’s football with the Oceania Football Confederation is part of the federation strategy to put its best foot forward when it comes to qualifying for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“When we were informed of the decision that FIFA had approved Australia and New Zealand to host the next Women’s World Cup we had discussions with several committees, including the Executive, trying to persuade the members that this is a very important opportunity for Tonga,” Tu’ivailala said.
“We believe that we have the potential, and if we start working early then we might steal a spot.”
Tu’ivailala said those discussions began in 2020, and continued into early 2021. Having been in touch with a number of different organisations including FIFA and OFC, Tu’ivailala felt it was time to call on some of the contacts she’s made over a lengthy career in women’s football development.
“I started making phone calls and that included to Connie and when it was highlighted by FIFA that we need a coach at the moment, right now, we made an offer to her which she considered and accepted.
“By the beginning of May that was approved by the EXCO and we’re working to get her on the first flight coming from Brisbane to Tonga in July so she can get to work with the girls.”
While the search for a coach was ongoing, the need to start preparing the players for the challenge ahead got underway in March with a squad of 40 girls in Tongatapu and 30 girls in Vava’u.
Uele led the trials across both islands, whittling down the wider groups for this week’s camp. In selecting players from Ha’apai, which predominantly develops beach soccer over other football disciplines, Uele was able to rely on what he’d seen during the Heilala Manongi Cup in January.
“We identified some potential girls as Ha’apai, although they came from beach soccer, represented themselves well in the 11-a-side tournament and we were able to select six girls to join our camp,” Tu’ivailala explained.
Although Selby is not present for the first camp, she is expected to make an appearance via video link to introduce her to the players.