Mohammad Rajani: Tonga football needs to grow

Mohammad Rajani is a born-Australian football player that represents Tonga at international level. The 20 years old winger is one of the many footballers with Tongan citizenship spread in other countries.

He was discovered by Tongan Football Association when he was 11 years old “The coach of my club in Sydney (APIA Leichhardt) went to Tonga to help Kilifi Uele and Lui Muavesi with some youth coaching programs. Around the same time, I went to Tonga to visit my family and so my coach introduced me to the TFA, and since then they have kept contact with us.” he said.

Currently playing in his homeland Australia, Rajani is one of the most exciting youth players that can represent Tonga National Team. He has not played for the main squad yet but he already played U19 and U23 OFC tournaments for Tonga.

Tonga is one of the bottom placed teams in FIFA World Ranking currently standing at the 204th position of 210 National Teams. The small country in the Pacific Ocean has a big tradition in Rugby – having played some Rugby World Cups – but in football they are still doing their first steps and they clearly need some help to develop. “I think Tongan football has so much potential. However I think that the current board needs a lot of help with organization of our national teams from other people/nations” he stated

Rajani (in red) playing against Vanuatu in 2019 OFC Olympic Qualifiers

Anyway Tonga is slowly developing. Despite losing most matches they are showing they can do something better specially at youth level. They won the qualifying stage for 2018 OFC U19 Championship after beating American Samoa and Cook Islands and drawing against Samoa. Rajani was a key player in this tournament scoring two goals and delievering two assists, participating in four of the six goals scored by Tonga in the tournament, which helped him to be named the Qualifying Stage’s MVP.

Young players are the Tonga’s hope to become a competitive side at continental level, or at least to not be smashed by their opponents. Mohammed Rajani, Mahe Malafu, Vai Lutu, Tuia Falepapalangi, Hemaloto Polovili, Soakai Vea, Laulea Taufa and some other players can be the basis of Tongan National Team in the upcoming years and it is surely a good basis for future to improve their standards. “Our national team can grow so much. This pool of players in my age group has a lot of talent, both domestically and internationally based and we can put a competitive team together” said Rajani.

Most of these players took part of U23 Olympic Qualifier held in Fiji this year. Despite losing all three matches, Tonga managed to score two goals – both scored by Hemaloto Polovili – and hold hosts Fiji to a 4-1 win. “Our U23 side overall performance was not very good compared to the rest of the region. Of course, we are the underdogs coming into these tournaments and no one expects much of us but I think we shocked a lot of people with how we carried ourselves though, especially in the first game (against Fiji).”

Rajani (first from left to right) in U23 Olympic Qualifier held in Fiji

Rajani knows that Tonga is still doing their first steps in football but he understands they can improve specially if they have some international help “Technical aspects will obviously play a huge part in how we prepare and play and I think that is where we need help […] The results speak for themselves and I think, with help, Tonga can grow so much and compete.” he stated.

As it was already said in the beginning of this text, there are many footballers with Tongan citizenship spread in other countries that could improve the National Team’s level but it seems they have not been discovered by TFA yet and it shows how they need urgent help to develop. “I think it comes down to our association’s ability to be able to scout, reach out and find these players”.

Tonga still faces some problems with football that do not come from lack of organization. Football popularity still needs to grow in the country once Rugby is the most important sport there. TFA could follow Tonga Rugby Union steps to become a better team in football. Iceland already proved that population is not a problem. The island with 300 thousand people managed to qualify for 2016 Euro and 2018 World Cup playing in European Qualifiers, the strongest continent in the world when it comes to football. Tonga’s rugby also proves that it is not impossible for them to have a competitive National Football Team. Seriousness and investments are necessary to make it. “I think maybe with help from sponsors, the league can grow, youth programs will grow bigger and players will be developed in a professional way so they can have opportunities to play at a high level, like other nations around the world.” said Rajani. Tonga is currently building a new stadium and it is a good initiative but as Rajani stated above they need more.

Currently playing in Australia, he is exploring some opportunities to play in other places “Playing 2020 OFC Champions League is definitely a goal of mine in the coming months, I think I have shown my ability in the international tournaments and I want to get on the field on that stage and compete against the best players playing in our region“. Talking about Tonga, Veitongo is currently leading the league and they will probably qualify for Champions League. Will we see Rajani playing for Veitongo in this tournament? Maybe. Anyway Oceania Football Center thanks to him for conceding this interview and wish him good luck in his career and life.


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