26 Jan 2017

Sport: Cook Islands football champs Puaikura FC eye history

1:59 pm on 26 January 2017

The Cook Islands football champions Puaikura FC are looking to make history in the Oceania Champions League.

The Rarotonga club regained the Cook Islands Round Cup in 2016, to qualify for the Champions League Preliminary against the league winners from Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa.

Puaikura FC celebrate winning the Cook Islands Round Cup in 2016.

Puaikura FC celebrate winning the Cook Islands Round Cup in 2016. Photo: Oceania Football

Head coach Matt Calcott has only just joined the team, but is familiar with some of the players, having coached the Cook Islands at the OFC Under 20 Championship in September.

"Four or five of the players - and the probably main contributors to their success in Rarotonga - were in the Under 20s so it's a pretty young side that's been successful in Rarotonga," he said.

"Coupled with that is we've managed to get five or so players from New Zealand so there's a lot of familiar faces to me so we'll do what we've done in the past and to be honest with you it's no real different when you to Champions League tournaments with the likes of Team Wellington.

"Normally you do have some players coming in late on and you do have to prioritise your work and it will be the same again as we head out to Tonga and we will get four or five good sessions in before we hit the ground running Saturday."

Team Wellington coach Matt Calcott.

Matt Calcott. Photo: OFC via Phototek

For the first time, the top two teams from the Preliminary event will advance to the Champions League main draw.

Matt Calcott, who coached Team Wellington a runners up finishes at the past two OFC Champions League tournaments, said Puaikura want to be the first Cook Islands club to qualify for the main draw since the competition's current format was introduced in 2007.

Puaikura's first match is against Tongan champions Veitongo FC on Saturday, while American Samoa's Utulei Youth FC take on Samoa's Lupe Ole Soaga in the tournament opener.