Tim has world at his feet

By Steve Spinks

HE has a selection base of 15,000 people. His team is ranked 198 in world soccer.

And the World Cup finals are not due to kick off in South Africa until 2010.

But Eureka's Tim Jerks starts his World Cup qualifying campaign full of enthusiasm this weekend as head coach of the Cook Islands national team.

"We head to Samoa tomorrow and our first game is on Monday," Jerks told The Northern Star from the Cook Islands.

"We have four games in our pool, against New Caledonia, Tahiti, Fiji and Tuvalu."

There are 10 teams in the qualifying tournament in Samoa. The top three teams go through to the second round, where they will be joined by Oceania's top ranked team New Zealand in a four-nation tournament.

The winner of that tournament progresses to a play-off against the fifth-placed Asian team for one of the final spots at the World Cup.

With this in mind, Jerks understands he has more chance of being named AC Milan head coach than the Cook Islands winning their way through to South Africa.

"I can't see us winning," he said. "But we're trying to build the sport up. Rugby is the big sport here because we're so heavily connected with New Zealand. We're looking to perform well because we have a very young team.

"Also, there are only 15,000 people on the Cooks Islands whereas the likes of Fiji have about one million people."

The Cook Islands' main rivals in the group stages will be Fiji and Tahiti.

"The Fijians are looking good following their preparation which included playing in the States (USA)," Jerks said. "They also beat New Zealand recently 1-0. The French Polynesians are very tidy on the ball and they have a few players with experience of playing in France."

The only nation ranked below the Cook Islands is America Samoa which was slaughtered 31-0 by Australia in 2001.

Jerks is 18 months into a two-year contract with the Cook Islands and he is in negotiations to possibly extend his tenure.

While he was coaching director of Football Far North Coast, Jerks had a short stint coaching Tuvalu.

If you think Jerks has got it tough with the Cook Islands, spare a thought for the Tuvalu coach.

Even if the tiny nation wins the qualifying tournament next week they can't progress any further as they are not a member of FIFA.



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