The Tuvalu national team have arrived in the Netherlands on a rare European tour by a Pacific side and the first by a side from the region not in FIFA.
Australia and New Zealand have played relatively regularly in the northern hemisphere. The only other Oceania side to visit Europe was Tonga undertook a brief ill-fated trip to Italy in 1991. Like the Tongans, the Tuvalu side are only expected to play club sides in a tour arranged by the Foundation Dutch Support Tuvalu (FDST).
“Tuvalu will play between 17 and 20 matches with amateur clubs located in all provinces of the Netherlands,” says Paul Driessen, who is the driving force behind the FDST and has visited Tuvalu.
The Tuvalu squad arrived on August 16 and their first game is expected to be against VV Nieuweschoot.
The tour has been sponsored by the FDST, which aims to both develop the football in Tuvalu and secure full FIFA membership for the Pacific islands that were a British colony until securing independence in 1978. As a result, Tuvalu is eligible for FIFA membership but like fellow Pacific islanders Kiribati the Tuvalu National Football Association has had to settle for associate membership of the Oceania Football Federation.
The FDST persuaded former Dutch Under-21 coach Foppe de Haan to coach the Tuvalu national team at the last Pacific Games, which is the side’s only regular international foray. Tuvalu performed well given that all their opponents were benefitting from FIFA largesse. Tuvalu thrashed American Samoa 4-0, lost 1-5 to Vanuatu, 0-8 to hosts New Caledonia and 1-6 to the Solomon Islands but recovered to draw 1-1 with Guam.
Last October, the FDST also brought two players from Tuvalu, Vaisua Liva and Alopua Petou, over to the Netherlands and the pair spent three months with the reserve team at Eindhoven-based VV Brabantia.
After returning home, Petou and Liva subsequently joined New Zealand side Waitakere City to become Tuvalu’s first semi-professional footballers. Petou is on the European tour, where former NAC Breda and De Graaschap coach Leen Looijen will take charge.
“I owe a lot to the football and think it's great that I can do some back as coach of Tuvalu,” says Looijen. “I would like to make my contribution to the development of the Tuvaluan football by creating better players; not only technical, tactical and physical condition, but also by reviving a professional way of thinking.
“From Foppe I've heard good stories about Tuvalu. I understand that the football level is totally different than in the Netherlands, but I find that no problem. I hope the players go home after three months with a good feeling and that I have experienced a nice time myself as well.”
Tuvalu only has a population of 10,698 and comprises just 26 square kilometres of land. The highest point in Tuvalu is only 5-km above sea level and the islands are threatened by global warming.
So the aims of the tour will be twofold. The national team will gain valuable experience playing matches against European opponents. When not playing games or training, the Tuvalu players will spend time visiting schools in each of the towns that they play in to speak to school children about the dangers of global warming.
TUVALU 2013 EUROPEAN TOUR SQUAD
Jelly Selau (Manu Laeva)
Ietitaia Keli (Ha’apai United)
Leiatu Uoli (Manu Laeva)
Sepetaio Nokisi (Ranui Swanson, New Zealand)
Iosefatu Taui Alefaio (Ranui Swanson, New Zealand)
Etimoni Timuani (Tofaga)
Maalosi Alefaio (Te Atatu, New Zealand)
Meneua Fakasega (Waitakere City, New Zealand)
Vaiaho Napoe (Ha’apai United)
Amatusi Telogo Peni (Ha’apai United)
James Lepaio (Tofaga)
Telava Folitao (Manu Laeva)
Afelee Valoa (Nauti)
Uota Ale (Tofaga)
Mauga Tonise (Manu Laeva)
Akelei Lima'alofa (Manu Laeva)
Geoffrey Logo Maleko (Nauti)
Lutelu Tiute (Tofaga)
Alopua Petoa (Waitakere City, New Zealand)
Eric Tealofi (Tofaga)
Panapa Mafoa (Tofaga)
Filialofa Teake (Manu Laeva)
Taufaiva Ionatana (Nauti)
Sio Silitone (Manu Laeva)
Sepuli Loaha (Ha’apai United)
Nelesone Musika (Ha’apai United)
Mac Makatui Tuia (Te Atatu AFC, New Zealand)