Tongan football was always away from the worldwide scenario of international football; always the fans knew little about the competitions in the country and its national development. In the past years, there are efforts coming from Polynesia to make the access to information easier – something that could link Tonga and the rest of ‘bottom four OFC ranked nations’ to the rest of the football world.
Since the modern format of the two most important competitions in Oceania was implanted – OFC Champions League and OFC Nations Cup – Tonga was not represented in its group stage. The biggest winners of their local league Lotoha’apai United and Veitongo took part in the recent editions of the OFC Champions League – Preliminary Stage, but were unable to qualify for the group stage. Tonga national team was also unable to take part in the group stage of any of the recent editions of the OFC Nations Cup, the result is similar at the youth stages being the only big achievement recently the spot earned in the group stage of the OFC U19 Championship back in 2018 after winning the preliminary round.
Although the bad records, Tongans have something to hold with: Veitongo, in the latest edition of the preliminary stage of the OFC Champions League, shown a better football than any of the recent Tongan representatives in the competition.
Veitongo was unable to hold Lupe o le Soaga from Samoa in their first game, losing by 2-0. Despite their bad first half, they improved a lot in the final 45 minutes of the clash. Their strike force could create some difficulties to the Samoan defense, even earning a penalty kick that was wasted by Vai Lutu, unfortunately for the Tongans.
They went for the final clash against Tupapa Maraerenga needing a win to celebrate a first ever spot for a Tongan side in the modern era of the OFC Champions League. Their main player Hemaloto Polovili scored early to put his side upfront, but it did not take long for the Cook Islands side to find an equalizer. The same Polovili put his team in front again with one world-class free kick finish, making the dream possible for the coached by Mark Uhatahi.
The story was the same in the second half: Veitongo proved to be more dangerous than Tupapa Maraerenga upfront, but still the defensive system of the Tongan side was their biggest problem. The Cook Islanders grabbed another goal early in the second – the result they needed to go ahead – what forced Veitongo to go to attack to have its needed goal.
The same Hemaloto Polovili had a golden chance to find his hattrick in the match, but he was denied by the opposition keeper. The final result was not what Veitongo wanted, but surely they can be proud of their big effort. The lesson from this competition is surely to have a better organised defensive system – to avoid the mistakes they had against Lupe and Tupapa.
The results are certainly better: Lotoha’apai United in the 2019 edition of the tournament could grab a win against Pago Youth from American Samoa, but lost by 4-1 against Tupapa Maraerenga and suffered a harsh defeat against Kiwi from Samoa by 9-1. Veitongo, in his last appearance in the tournament in 2018, just draw against the American Samoans of Pago Youth and lost 9-2 for the same Tupapa Maraerenga and 6-0 for Lupe o le Soaga. The evolution seems clear.
The quality of the still young Hemaloto Polovili need to be developed to serve as example for the younger generations to have the desire to win. The stepping stone for Tongan football can be the good performance of Veitongo – but they still have a long way to go – to show they can improve on our loved football.