Cook Islands Football Association are looking forward to hosting a handful of New Zealand teams when they host the inaugural Kia Orana Youth Football Festival at CIFA Sports Complex in Matavera from 15 to 22 April.
The seven-day competition will feature U-16 boys and girls teams, with the objective of developing international relationships and providing a positive and exciting environment for young players to develop.
Festival organiser and CIFA Competitions Manager Pauline Dean was pleased to see so many clubs jump on board as soon as the competition was first advertised.
“This will be our first youth football event of this calibre. In 2011 we held a national championship but this only catered to teams from Rarotonga and the outer islands,” she said.
“This will be the first youth football event that any New Zealand teams have participated in and we hope to host more teams from abroad in future.”
With the OFC U-16 Women’s Championship and OFC U-19 Women’s Championship only a few months away, Dean also hopes the festival can be used as a platform to expose local talent and provide them with experience against foreign styles of play.
“This will be good preparation for football players who may be identified to participate in our youth academy programmes and selected to trial for our national teams,” she said.
“It will be a great chance for our local players to get a taste of international football tournaments and for us to see how overseas-based teams play against our domestic sides.”
The competition will be played in three stages, with the two top teams from pool-play continuing on to the semi-final to determine the two finalists.
The girls division consists of eight teams, with Aitutaki, Mangaia, Tupapa Maraerenga and Puaikura FC drawn in Pool A and Mauke, Beachlands Fury, Ellerslie Mustangs and Takitumu Royales drawn in Pool B.
Titikaveka Blue Balls, Tupapa Maraerenga, Mauke and Aitutaki make up Pool A of the boy’s division and Pool B consists of Puaikura FC, Mangaia and Matavera.
Following what Dean predicts will be a successful international derby, she extends the invite out for future teams to join what she plans to develop into an annual event.
“I have no doubt that this will be a stepping stone for our youth football players to be exposed to international football and we would like to encourage more overseas-based teams to come along to the Cook Islands to play football in paradise.”
The Kia Orana Youth Football Festival will kick off at CIFA Sports Complex on 15 April and will conclude with the final matches of both divisions on 22 April.