The first round of OFC qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup was initially set to be contested by four nations. However, American Samoa and Samoa withdrew due to COVID-19 pandemics, while Tonga dropped out of the tournament following a volcanic disaster that caused severe flooding across the country. With this, Cook Islands automatically qualified for the group stage.
Despite getting a direct place in the group stage, the lack of information about the Cook Islands National Team has brought a bit of darkness about whether or not they would play in the tournament. The doubts finally came to an end as 23-year-old defender Ben Mata confirmed he is going to Qatar to represent the Cook Islands for the first time ever. He also stated that the National Team will rely on a bunch of New Zealand-based players for the tournament.
Currently playing for Wellington Olympic, Benjamin helped his side to clinch the Central League’s title last year, after being part of Team Wellington’s squad that won New Zealand Premiership in 2020-21.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Mata represented his country of birth at youth level, being part of the squad that played 2015 U-17 FIFA World Cup. He is the brother of fellow player Max Mata, who also represented New Zealand internationally.
The Cook Islands are going to debut at 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers on 17th March against the Solomon Islands. They will also play Tahiti and Vanuatu in the Group A of tournament.