“Immensely proud of our players today.
Overcame nerves and fully deserved to come out victorious. 1st ever win,” their 28-year-old Welsh head coach Drew Sherman posted on Twitter.
The three points put the Cook Islands top of the standings in the four-team, five-day tournament at the tree-lined Loto-Tonga Soka Centre, where only the group winners will go through to the second phase and join Oceania’s more-established names like New Zealand and Tahiti.
It marked a disappointing start for Tonga, who had warmed up for the tournament with a 5-0 loss to Fiji last week in their first match in four years.
Monday’s second fixture resulted in Samoa, victors at this stage four years ago, holding on for a 3-2 win over American Samoa, once beaten 31-0 in a World Cup qualifier by Australia.
The tiny U.S. territory in the South Pacific, ranked 200th in the FIFA rankings, had trailed 3-0 after 26 minutes but Samoa were reduced to 10 men and were left hanging on after two goals by Frankie Beauchamp.
American Samoa will take on Tonga on Wednesday in a repeat of the 2014 World Cup first round qualifier they won 2-1, their first ever victory at this level that came 10 years after the world record defeat by Australia.
Just six of that side have returned for the 2018 qualifiers with John ‘Jaiyah’ Saelua, considered the first transgender to play in a FIFA match, one of those not taking part in Tonga.
Wednesday’s opening fixture features the top-ranked of the four teams, Samoa (197th), taking on the Cook Islands.
(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O’Brien)