Kalifa makes history at inaugural OFC Women’s Champions League

Florencina Khalifa

Florencina Kalifa made history when she scored Kiwi FC’s first goal of the inaugural OFC Women’s Champions League tournament in Port Moresby on Monday.

The 13-year-old striker is the youngest player competing at the tournament. She took the ball she scored everywhere following the match, including to bed last night, and her story illustrates the ‘Power of Football.’

Growing up in Apia, the third daughter of a rugby playing dad Kalifa Faleaana and a volleyball playing mum Lina Faleaana, sport has always been a daily part of life for Florencina. She was introduced to football at the age of five, following her older sister Vineta everywhere, and that included to football trainings and games. Vineta captains the Kiwi FC Women’s team, and being more than seven years her junior, Florencina was determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps.

By the age of seven Florencina started playing for the Kiwi FC Under 12 team, and it was here that she overcame her first barrier in football.

“I wasn’t afraid to play with the bigger girls and I got excited every time I was going to play. But I was underestimated by my teammates who didn’t want to pass the ball to me. But it didn’t stop me, and I didn’t feel down for it for them not passing the ball to me, it motivated me.” Kalifa explained.

She takes her surname from her dad’s first name but has revealed her mum provides the inspiration for her playing football.

“My mum inspires me; she is heavily involved in the club and is always at the games helping. Football’s a game that brings the family together, everyone can be involved, my sisters, my brother, my mum the whole family comes to watch. Kiwi FC is like a family and every time we have a game mum works hard for the whole team. She cooks rice and curry for after the match.” Kalifa said.

Coach Leti Tamasese added Florencina’s mum Lina works on Saturdays, so would also juggle her start time around her daughter’s football. “So if the game is in the morning, she goes to the game and adjusts her work time so she can watch the girls.” Tamasese said.

Like any kid, excitement builds on match days in the Faleaana household, ( her 9 year old brother Epaforoti is also playing at Kiwi FC)  and Florencina admits she is always getting told off by her mum for kicking the ball around inside. It’s become a bit of a pre match ritual.

“Before every match mum usually scolds me for playing with the ball in the house, I never let go of the ball in the house and am told to go outside.”

The Year 9 student also plays rugby tag and netball at Leifiifi College in Apia,  and she hopes her feats at the inaugural OFC Women’s Champions league can serve as an inspiration for her fellow students when she returns home next week.

“I am going to use this experience to help the youth team girls to motivate them when I get home.”  Kalifa said.

Her sister’s phone has been going non-stop since she scored yesterday, with messages from her family, extended family, friends and from her school.

“When I get back, I am going to be a queen to my friends, and I will encourage them to look for a sport that they really want to join.”

So what’s it like for Florencina to be in a team with her big sister Vineta as captain?

“We are competitive.” She said, leaving coach Tamasese to explain further.

“One day we had a training camp at my place, and I asked Florencina why she was there so early? She said she wanted to train hard early in the morning and again in the evening and be better than her sister. So yesterday when she scored the goal her sister was saying that should have been mine if she had passed the ball to me. And they were fighting yesterday, (laughs) and Florencina says if I had known you were there, I would have passed the ball, but I saw you would have been offside.” Tamasese explained, prompting the sisters to burst into laughter.

Vineta emphasised how proud she is of her younger sibling’s achievements, and Tamasese recalls a recent conversation stemming from a training session back home.

“I saw Florencina crying at training and asked her what’s the matter? She said Vineta bullied her and said she’s a wannabe and you will never get where I am. So I asked Vineta and she said she just wanted to push her, and she knows she can do it but sometimes she feels like she’s a baby so in a way she is trying to motivate Florencina.” Tamasese said.

Florencina Kalifa’s emergence as a real talent in Samoan women’s football comes at a time when OFC has just launched its ‘This is How We Football’ Women’s football program which aims to encourage girls aged 13 and over to engage in football at community and elite level.

And Florencina revealed another hugely successful OFC programme, ‘Just Play’ which is targeted at 6–12 year old’s, was something she was involved with as a youngster.

She acknowledges she’s very much still at the start of her football journey and says this tournament has provided a real eye opener and a gage of what areas of her game she needs to develop, positional play and ball skills. But with a supportive team and family environment around her, Florencina Kalifa is confident she can continue to achieve her dreams in football.