TITIKAVEKA - SEASON 2020
Topping the table again for the second year in a row, we're establishing ourselves as the top team on the island, far above the wage-payers of Tupapa and Nikao who have not won a title in years, so why we're not the top ranked club in the country is beyond me. Nevertheless, success is ours and we know we're great.
Winger Romano Tangata seals us the first game against Nikao (4-1), and Tupapa fall to John Paul Tua Hinderson (3-0), our star striker for the third season now and only 20-years old. A routine win against Avatiu (2-0), thanks to some substitutes, is followed by a loss to Puaikura (0-1). We were a shambles and looked fools against the eventual wooden spoon winners. Hinderson grabbed another 3 points for us against Takuvaine (1-0) before we headed in to the start of our O-League campaign in Samoa. More on that later.
We come back to suffer a draw to Matavera (1-1) and a loss to Nikao (0-2), but an entertaining game against Avatiu put us right back on track. When all looked god damn awful with Avatiu going 0-2 up in the opening 5 minutes, the trophy was slipping away from my sweaty fingers. The second half begins and it's nice to wait until at least 10 minutes in to concede, but we soon find our feet, granted 3 goals down. Defender Taurau Robertson surprisingly scores, and then the centre-mid Joshua Ngarua scores - woohoo, 2-3 with 30 mins still left! And then substitute Anonga Vulcher gets a brace and we're suddenly winning, and then Robertson scores again! Sure, Avatiu score again but we win 5-4 and a twisty turny tremendous tussle.
That win puts us on a victorious home stretch, rounding up the season with wins against Tupapa (1-0), Puaikura (2-1), Takuvaine (4-1), and Matavera (3-1). The only thing of note being youngster Gabriel Tekeu scoring his first hat-trick against Takuvaine.
Titikaveka win the knockout cup for the first time in 5 years, and the first team to complete the double since I started this game! Avatiu 2-1 in the Quarter Final, left winger Makea Tua scoring both and stealing the show from Avatiu's wonder strike from Ioane Victor. Tupapa 3-1, Hinderson and Vulcher sharing the merits. We absolutely destroyed Puaikura in the final. Tangata, Ngarua, and hot prospect Andre Tangaroa stealing a brace in the final moments. 4-0!
My personal goal was to take the team past the Prelim stage and in to pastures new. It was the same teams as last time: Moaula United from Samoa, Popua from Tonga, and Lion Heart from American Samoa. Moaula kept us to an uneventful goalless draw, but Popua, a team who has beaten us well and truly on both meetings previously, fell to a stunning display from a spirited Titikaveka 4-0. 4 points but Moaula won as well, we had to beat Lion Heart. It was close but Gabriel Tekeu got us the win (1-0) and we went through to the group stages for the first time, and only by a single goal in the end.
This was it, the big time. The 12 best teams of this sparse continent congregate here to battle it out. New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, they're all here! We're not the first Cook Islands team to make it this far, Avatiu gave it a good go in 2014 drawing 2 and winning 1, and just last season Puaikura made it too, drawing 1 and losing 2.
We were chucked in with Nadi from Fiji, AS Magenta from New Caledonia, and Canterbury United from New Zealand, the only team who can challenge the mighty Auckland City in their league. This was just an experience for me, I expected nothing, and Nadi gave me exactly that. Hinderson infiltrated enemy (goal)lines, but we were duly pushed aside and left with a 4-1 loss to our name. I feared the worst against Canterbury, but bizarrely, we thrashed them 4-0. A fluke, surely? All 4 goals were scored by youth squad members too, whom I started with because I expected an onslaught and rested the better players for the game against Magenta. That game ended 0-0, however, and Nadi topped the group with a complete 9 points.
There's 3 groups so the winners go through alongside the best second-placed team, and with 4 points to our name, it surely wasn't us. Except it was. All second-placed teams ended with 4 points and Titikaveka had the better goal difference, by 1 again. We were through to the O-League semi-finals!
We drew AS Tamarii Faa'a from Tahiti who won all of their games. We hosted the first leg in front of a large crowd but could only muster up a 1-1 draw. In Tahiti, on a wet chilly day, we fell 2-0 down before the half hour mark. It felt like the end of the road, that a wall had been hit and we remembered we were Titikaveka from the Cook Islands, an O-League semi-final was beyond us. But before the break, Romano Tangata got one back, and after that we drew level with 30 minutes to go. We could do this, we must! We are Titikaveka from the Cook Islands, and we want to play in the Club World Championship! But a penalty was given to Tamarii, and it was not controversial, it was not soft. The ball hit the net, the Tahitians cheered, the whistle was blown and the boys in blue were out. Tamarii went on to face fellow countrymen in AS Tefana and lost 1-0.
It's always tough to go out, but I cannot let heads drop, this was more than deserved from this group of young boys determined to become men. Their character makes them men, not trophies. Besides, we've got 2 this season already.