Tonga celebrate return to action despite loss

Tonga's starting line-up against Philippines.
Tonga's starting line-up against Philippines.

Losing to the Philippines 16-0 wasn’t exactly the return to international football that the Tonga national women’s team envisioned.

However, not having been able to train since January due to a volcanic eruption followed by a Covid-19 outbreak, just being able to get out on the field is an achievement.

Tonga’s preparations for the Oceania qualifiers for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia New Zealand 2023 were heading in a positive direction following the arrival of coach, Connie Selby, along with regular trainings.

On 15th January, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted a mere 65km to the north of the main island of Tongatapu, resulting in a tsumani.

Combined the two natural disasters caused extensive damage across Tonga, and blanketing the whole island in ash.

The Tonga Government mandated no sports events or training as a result of the ash covering the country.

Tonga Women’s Football Development Officer Laite Tu’ivailava said while it was expected that football activities might return in February, the Kingdom unfortunately went into lockdown due to an outbreak of Covid-19.

“We were doing out best but we felt we had to get out of Tonga for our camps, training and games in order to improve our match fitness before the qualifiers,” she said.

Tonga will spend close to a month in Australia with matches against Sydney club sides on the agenda, as well as a further friendly against the Philippines next weekend.

Tu’ivailala said while the result wasn’t ideal, for the players it was nice to be back representing Tonga and kicking a ball around.

“We arrived at 2pm and played at 5pm which wasn’t ideal,” she said. “But we didn’t want to cancel because we were really looking forward to having a game.”

“The girls were happy to be back playing and now we just keep working to improve every day.”

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