PREVIEW: Tonga import players from America for Olympic qualifier against Ferns

Six players sourced from leagues in North America could help Tonga’s cause in their opening OFC Olympic Qualifier match against New Zealand’s Football Ferns.

The teams meet in Apia, Samoa, on Wednesday for their Group B fixture at the eight-team tournament to decide who will represent Oceania at July’s Olympic Games in Paris.

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Main photo: The Tonga squad at the OFC Olympic Qualifier tournament in Samoa. Photo credit: OFC Media.

Tonga arrive at the tournament on the back of an eighth-placing at November’s 10-team Pacific Games.

Since then, the team has drafted in half a dozen players from North America, including four who will make their international debut at the Olympic Qualifiers.

The debutants are Telly Vunipola, Lisimani Helu, Leila Hausia-Haugen, and Eden Makaafi.

Californian midfielder Vunipola (23) is with Washington State University, moving there last year after four seasons of college football in Syracuse and Louisiana.

United States-born defender Helu (20) played for New Mexico State in 2023 after missing the 2022 season through injury.

Prior to that, she was the MVP for her State Championship-winning San Mateo High School, scoring 21 goals as a defender.

Defender Hausia-Haugen (19) is another United States-born player, who plays for Washington’s Puget Sound Loggers.

Striker Makaafi won several end-of-season awards after scoring 13 goals for College of Idaho in the Cascade Collegiate Conference.

Makaafi (22) was named in the NAIA’s All-American third team, and was chosen for the United Soccer Coaches All-West Region side.

Two more North America-based players are in the Tongan squad, having already worn the red national shirt.

Canadian-born attacking midfielder Sachi Swift (26) plays for the Victoria Highlanders in Canada’s League 1 British Columbia, regarded as a third-tier of domestic competition. She played for Tonga at November’s Pacific Games.

America-born defender Daviana Vaka (22) is in her fourth year of college football in the United States, where she plays for the University of Florida’s Gators, and has played for her home state club, the Utah Avalanche.

She’s the twin sister of defender Laveni Vaka who made history on January 12, 2024, when she became the first-ever Tonga professional women’s player, when signed by San Francisco’s Bay FC in the draft for the 2024 NWSL.

Laveni Vaka is not in the Olympic qualifier squad.

Of the remaining squad members, eight are graduates from Tonga’s 2023 U-19 side while two step up from the U-16 team.

The youngsters include Tama’a Faletau (16), who scored all five of her side’s goals in Tonga’s 5-1 win against the Solomon Islands at the 2023 OFC U-16 Women’s Championship.


Game to be played on Wednesday February 7, 2024

New Zealand v Tonga
Apia Park, Apia, Samoa, 1pm (NZT)



Ana Polovili, Veitongo, Tonga
Siunipa Talasinga, Veitongo, Tonga
Lusitania Koloa, Veitongo, Tonga
Seini Lutu, Veitongo, Tonga
Latusiu Lomu. Veitongo, Tonga
Ana Lauteau, Veitongo, Tonga
Fololeni Filitonga, Fahefa, Tonga
Ana Talasinga, Lotoha’apai United, Tonga
Kalolaine Topui, Navutoka, Tonga
Leean Taufa’ao, Veitongo, Tonga
Tama’a Faletau, ‘Okoa, Tonga
Lavinia Afu, Longolongo, Tonga
Lositika Feke, Longolongo, Tonga
Melaia Polovili, Veitongo, Tonga
Hehea Taufam, Longolongo, Tonga
Lu’isa Mahe, Pangai (Ha’apai), Tonga
Oko Ta’ufo’ou, Liviela, Tonga
Tepola Fotu, ‘Utui, Tonga
Lesieli Moala, Lotoha’apai United, Tonga
Meleseini Tufui, Veitongo, Tonga
Daviana Vaka, Utah Avalanche, United States
Telly Vunipola, Washington State University, United States
Sachi Swift, Victoria Highlanders, Canada
Lisimani Helu, New Mexico State University, United States
Leila Hausia-Haugen, University of Puget Sound, United States
Eden Makaafi, College of Idaho, United States
Madison Tenifa, Longolongo, Tonga

Head coach: Kilifi Uele

New Zealand

Liz Anton* (19 caps) Perth Glory FC, Australia
Mackenzie Barry (9 caps) Wellington Phoenix FC, New Zealand
Katie Bowen (100 caps) Inter Milan, Italy
Claudia Bunge (24 caps) HB Køge, Denmark
Daisy Cleverley (33 caps) HB Køge, Denmark
Ava Collins (13 caps) St John’s University, USA
Brianna Edwards (0 caps) Wellington Phoenix FC, New Zealand
Victoria Esson (20 caps) Rangers FC, Scotland
Michaela Foster (10 caps) Wellington Phoenix FC, New Zealand
Macey Fraser (0 caps) Wellington Phoenix FC, New Zealand
Ally Green (7 caps) AGF, Denmark
Jacqui Hand (19 caps) Lewes FC, England
Betsy Hassett (152 caps) Stjarnan FC, Iceland
Grace Jale (23 caps) Perth Glory, Australia
Katie Kitching (2 caps) Sunderland AFC, England
Anna Leat (13 caps) Aston Villa FC, England
Annalie Longo (133 caps) Wellington Phoenix FC, New Zealand
Ruby Nathan* (1 caps) Canberra United, Australia
Grace Neville (6 caps) London City Lionesses, England
Gabi Rennie (30 caps) Unattached
Indiah-Paige Riley (16 caps) PSV Vrouwen, Netherlands
Rebekah Stott (96 caps) Melbourne City FC, Australia
Kate Taylor (11 caps) Wellington Phoenix FC, New Zealand
Hannah Wilkinson (119 caps) Melbourne City FC, Australia

*Available for Tonga game only

Head coach: Jitka Klimková

Tournament draw

# indicates current FIFA world ranking

Group A

  • Papua New Guinea #54
  • Fiji #71
  • Solomon Islands #104
  • American Samoa (no current ranking)

Group B

  • New Zealand #30
  • Tonga #92
  • Samoa #97
  • Vanuatu #122

The top two sides from each pool will advance to the semi-final stage with each pool winner meeting the runners-up from the other group.

The winning semi-finalists will meet in a sudden-death final.

Match schedule

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