Thursday 23 August 2018, 05:42

American Samoa set sail again in the Pacific

  • Oceania qualifiers for the 2019 Women’s World Cup commence on Friday

  • American Samoa return to OFC competition after a decade’s absence

  • The continent’s representative for France 2019 will be known in November

It has been a long 11-year wait but American Samoa are finally about to feature again in an OFC women’s competition.

Oceania’s road to the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ kicks off on Friday with a four-team preliminary stage that also features hosts Fiji, as well as Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Just one team will progress to November’s continental championship, where a single berth to France 2019 is on offer.

Merely participating will be a triumph of sorts for American Samoa, whatever the outcome over the coming week in Lautoka. Remotely located in the Pacific, this is a country that faces challenges in raising an international football team.

Even travelling to Fiji could be something of a culture shock for some of the squad members. Made up of five islands and a handful of atolls, the population of the United States unincorporated territory would fit entirely into Sugar City, as Lautoka is otherwise known.

Family ties American Samoa’s football journey has been well documented. The men’s team suffered a world record defeat in 2001, but claimed a much-celebrated maiden international victory ten years later. Three years ago they doubled that win tally, with only goal difference and a dose of bad luck denying them unlikely progression during 2018 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying.

Now the architect of that accomplishment is back, this time trying to help the American Samoa women’s team break new ground. Larry Mana’o will this week earn the rare distinction of coaching in both male and female World Cup qualifiers.

As was the case in 2015, Mana’o has uncovered a number of eligible players from the USA mainland. Ten of the 18-strong squad are currently domiciled Stateside.

And there will be a distinct family flavour, with the squad featuring three of Mana’o’s daughters and a niece—not that those players haven’t earned their stripes. Sisters Alma and Ava Mana’o represented their country as far back as 2011 when American Samoa competed in the Pacific Games.

“This is a different look for our team, we have more different [type of] players from different places,” said Mana’o.

“We’ve had a shorter amount of time to prepare, but I think the team chemistry is better than the team we took to New Caledonia in 2011.

“The difference is like night and day – I feel this team is definitely stronger. The chemistry, the spirit and technical ability of the players this time prepares us a little better.”

Two-decade wait American Samoa’s lone Women’s World Cup qualification experience was way back in 1998, when their two matches failed to yield any goals.

The team has been preparing throughout this year at the association’s headquarters in the capital, Pago Pago. The squad, which includes several players from last year’s OFC U-16 Women’s Championship, have spent the week in Samoa playing two matches as part of their preparations.

“A lot of these kids are younger than the teams we’ve taken in the past for our senior women, so it will be a positive experience regardless of what happens,” Mana’o said.

Vanuatu will likely start as favourites having won the Pacific Mini Games last year as hosts. But Fiji, whom they narrowly defeated in the final, have put significant resources into development over recent years and will be tough to beat on home soil.

OFC Women’s Nations Cup qualifier Lautoka (Fiji) – 24-30 August American Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu Winner progresses to final stage

OFC Women’s Nations Cup Kone, Noumea, Lifou, Mare (New Caledonia) – 18 November-1 December Cook Islands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga and qualification winner Winner qualifies for FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 and 2020 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament