Samoa to keep drawing on the diaspora

Papua New Guinea's Olivia Upaupa gets to the ball ahead of Samoa's Matalena Daniells. OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2018, Samoa vs. Papua New Guinea, Stade Yoshida, Kone, New Caledonia, Sunday 18th November 2018. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz
Papua New Guinea's Olivia Upaupa gets to the ball ahead of Samoa's Matalena Daniells. OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2018, Samoa vs. Papua New Guinea, Stade Yoshida, Kone, New Caledonia, Sunday 18th November 2018. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz

If Football Federation Samoa didn’t opt to spread the net of its talent search far and wide, it would have missed out on the talent of its current national team captain, Matalena Johnson (nee Daniells).

The 25-year-old was scouted while playing for her Brisbane-based club, Olympic FC, and has gone on to become a stalwart of the Samoa national team, captaining both the U-20 and senior teams in regional competitions.

This month, the federation will once again be looking to the diaspora to bolster its ranks with an open call for footballers with Samoan heritage to showcase their talent in front of the national coaches in Auckland, New Zealand.

Former Wellington Phoenix star, Paul Ifill, who coaches Wairarapa United in New Zealand’s W-League, was named as Samoa’s head coach earlier this year, and he’s certain there are more players like Johnson, and his Wairarapa United striker Torijan Lyne-Lewis, out there.

“There’s no point in leaving any stone unturned,” Ifill told Pacific Beat‘s Richard Ewart.

“I’ve been in New Zealand long enough to know that a lot of Kiwis feel like they fall through the cracks. And we certainly don’t want that to happen here.”

A player is eligible to represent Samoa if they can trace their heritage back through their parents or grandparents, and for players like Johnson it has been an opportunity to create a link with family and ancestors.

Matalena Johnson in action for Samoa at the Pacific Games 2019. Photo: Areta Areta (Samoa Observer)

Her link comes via her mother Fa’aonea, a native Samoan from Faia’ai, Savai’i, who moved to Australia 30 years ago.

“So my family, wider Samoa, they really love that myself and my siblings have been able to represent Samoa,” Johnson told ABC Australia’s That Pacific Sports Show.

“They’re always so proud of us. It’s such an honour for us, and for me mum as well. Knowing that her kids are playing for her country is such a great experience.

“So whenever we go over to Samoa, we’re always eating, singing, dancing. Mostly my cousins doing the the dancing and singing. But it’s always great to see and immerse ourselves in the culture and be able to, you know, hang out and learn more about my family and go out to the beach and eat and all that sort of stuff. So I really, really enjoy that.”

While the trial is an opportunity for the players to connect to their roots, it is also about creating the most competitive team possible ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup coming to the region in 2023.

Samoa head coach, Paul Ifill. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / http://www.phototek.nz

“We’re really trying to narrow down what we’ve got and what we need to make a competitive squad to see if we can do something unthinkable, like qualifying for the World Cup in a couple of years’ time,” Ifill said.

If that were to happen, Johnson for one would be ecstatic.

“I guess dreaming big, it would be an incredibly experience to play at a World Cup for Samoa. But one step at a time. It would be a big process where we’d have to finish on top of the Nation’s Cup next year, and then be able to qualify in the inter-confederation cup.”

Until then, the focus is going to be on ensuring when the qualifiers come around, Samoa has built the most competitive team possible. And that begins with the New Zealand-based trials in Auckland on August 23.

Additional reporting courtesy of Pacific Beat and That Pacific Sports Show.

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