In a country where rugby is the national sport, which they happen to be quite good at, it’s easy to see why Tonga are rated as one of the worst football teams in the world. Tonga or the “Friendly Islands”, is a country located in South Pacific Ocean. The country is divided into four main island groups, but consist of 172 islands. The population of Tonga sits at just over 100,000 people.
Whilst the Tongan rugby team are ranked in the top fifteen best rugby teams in the world, the football team finds themselves consistently in the top ten worst football teams in the world!
Let’s have a look at why they’re so terrible.
History of Football in Tonga
Football has always been lagging behind rugby in Tonga. The national side has performed quite well on the international stage. They’ve competed at six Rugby World Cups with reasonable success as well as two runners up medals at the Rugby Pacific Nations Cup. So it’s safe to assume they’re pretty decent. However, The same can’t be said about the football team!
The Tonga Football Association (TFA) was founded in 1965 and took twenty-nine years for them to become affiliated with FIFA in 1994. The association oversees the Tonga national football team and the Tongan domestic football leagues.
The first record of football being played by Tonga was at the 1979 Pacific Games. They were drawn in a group with Tuvalu and Tahiti. Tonga got tanked by Tahiti 8-0 their first game, before going on to lose 5-3 to Tuvalu three days later.
They were next seen at the 1983 Pacific Games, this time in a group with American Samoa, Western Samoa and Wallis and Futuna. They fared somewhat better this time, albeit against much weaker opposition. They opened the campaign with a thrilling 3-3 draw against hosts Western Samoa, before claiming their first-ever win against American Samoa in another gripping 3-2 victory. Unfortunately, a 3-0 defeat Wallis and Futuna saw them finish 3rd in the group, thus failing to advance to the later stages.
Tongas first appearance in the World Cup qualifiers came in 1996. They defeated Western Samoa and the Cook Islands to set up a first-round play-off game against the Solomon Islands. Tonga was blown away by the much superior Solomon Islands and got spanked 13–0 on aggregate!
How Are Tonga Getting on These Days?
Well back in the early days they would at least win and draw some games. These days they’re consistently losing every game, usually by heavy margins. Without a win in over five years, Tonga are currently on a twelve game defeat streak. They’ve only scored three goals in that time, but conceded a staggering 71 goals.
In January 2008, a joint project called ‘Win in Oceania’ between the OFC and FIFA was announced. The US$8 million project was aimed at improving domestic competitions, infrastructure and in the long run develop football in Oceania to bring it to a much higher and competitive standard. Although the scheme might have improved infrastructure in Tonga, the results on the pitch definitely didn’t improve! Five games and five heavy defeats followed at the next Pacific Games!
Tonga’s most recent Pacific Games campaign was shambolic. They were drawn against New Zealand, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Samoa. You could probably excuse the 13-0 defeat to New Zealand as they’re a far superior football team. However, a 14-0 drubbing at the hands of Vanuatu was inexcusable. Throw in an 8-0 loss to Papua New Guinea, it makes for a tournament to forget. Judging on recent results, Tonga seem destined to keep falling in the FIFA World Rankings unless they can pull off a few upsets in the coming years!
What About Domestic Football in Tonga?
Tonga has two football leagues. The Tonga Major League serves as the top division, while Tonga Division 1 is the second tier. The leagues were founded in 1969. The Tonga Major League currently consists of eight teams who play each other three times over the course of the season. The winners of the league are rewarded with a spot in the OFC Champions League qualifying stage.
The most successful team in Tonga is undoubtedly Lotohaʻapai United. Located in Veitongo, Lotohaʻapai have been crowned champions sixteen times in the last twenty years, including ten in a row between 1998 and 2008. Curiously they have never won the Tonga Cup, which has been dominated by Ngeleʻia FC, who themselves have won the Major League eight times – albeit in the eighties.
So what does the future hold for Tongan football? Well, not a very bright one it seems. For as long as the rugby team continues to perform on the international stage, I struggle to see a situation where the football team can follow in their footsteps. However, everyone loves an underdog! So we’ll be keeping an eye on them over the next few years, hoping they can pull off an upset or two.
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