23 Jan 2020

Sport: Samoan football champs excited about return to pitch

12:26 pm on 23 January 2020

Samoan football champions Lupe o le Soaga are looking forward to getting back out on the pitch after their domestic season was cut short by the country's recent measles epidemic.

The Apia-based club won their fifth Samoa National League title last season, which earned them a spot in this month's OFC Champions League qualifying stage.

Samoan football champions Lupe o le Soaga.

Samoan football champions Lupe o le Soaga. Photo: Facebook/Lupe o le Soaga

The league season was postponed in November after the Samoan government declared a national state of emergency and later abandoned - with Lupe o le Soaga finishing two points clear of nearest rivals Kiwi FC.

The team has not played a competitive match for over two months but head coach Paul Ualesi said they were able to continue training and he was adamant their preparation had not been deterred.

"Our last game back home was the second week of November and at that time we had a state of emergency so all the games were cancelled [or] postponed because of the measles outbreak," he said.

"But we've really worked hard in our preparations - despite the measles outbreak we're not really having an excuse about that because we're here for the tournament, we're here to compete - we've really worked really hard for that."

Lupe o le Soaga huddle together during a training session in Auckland.

Lupe o le Soaga huddle together during a training session in Auckland. Photo: Facebook/Lupe o le Soaga

Ualesi said some of the players' families had been affected by the measles outbreak.

"That's another really good motivation for our boys to compete for this tournament is to represent our nation despite the measles," he said.

"We're really thinking about dedicating this for our people who suffer for the measles."

Lupe o le Soaga last competed in the Champions League qualifying stage two years ago where they finished second behind Cook Islands title holders Tupapa Maraerenga, with both teams advancing to the main group stage where they failed to win a game.

Team Wellington's Taylor Schrijvers under pressure from the Lupe Ole Soaga defence

Lupe o le Soaga playing against Team Wellington in the 2018 OFC Champions League. Photo: OFC/ phototek /Shane Wenzlick

After missing out on last years qualifier, Ualesi said he was excited for the team's return.

"It's a privilege for us to be back at the OFC tournament," he said. "It's a really great opportunity for our team to represent Samoa for the whole league [and] I think it's the next stage for the boys."

"It's a really good challenge for our boys for this year to get this primary objective to be qualified for the OFC Champions League."

The Samoan club champions have bolstered their squad for the Champions League campaign with two import players from New Zealand and one from Nigeria.

"We have a mix of the young lads and the more experienced ones," he said. "It's a good way for us to develop our young fellas to carry on for this year and next year as well to remain for the top one."

The qualifying stage kicks off this Saturday with Lupe Ole Soaga taking on Tonga's Veitongo FC before playing the Cook Islands football champions Tupapa Maraerenga on Tuesday.

"We know some of the players from Veitongo, the Tonga team," he said. "It's a really tough team as well - they've got experience and [they are] physical as well."

"Tonga is a really strong team, even Tupapa, we're not underestimating these teams we just need to really work hard to qualify because all of these teams they want to win."

Tonga's Veitongo FC celebrate a goal during last year's OFC Preliminary in the Cook Islands.

Lupe o le Soaga's first opponent is Tonga's Veitongo FC. Photo: Phototek via Oceania Football

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs