WATERTOWN, Wis. – Sabercat standout Wira Wama has returned from his native country of Papua New Guinea, where he represented his country with the rest of the PNG National Soccer Team (nicknamed the "Kapuls") as they hosted the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Nations Cup. In front of a capacity crowd at the Sir John Guise Stadium, PNG eventually fell via penalty kicks in the cup final to Oceania powerhouse New Zealand.
While the loss was disappointing, the runner-up finish for Wama and the Kapuls was their best OFC Nations Cup showing to date, and it advanced the team to the third round of the OFC FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, which will take place from March to October of 2017.
"It was a great experience," remarked Wama. "It was so much fun playing alongside my former team mates and so exciting playing for my country. That [Nations Cup] final was the first time that our national stadium has been filled for a soccer match instead of rugby, so it was exciting to see the people unite themselves in support of our team."
The Kapuls led the OFC in goals scored in the Nations Cup, which was the second round of OFC FIFA World Cup Qualifying. More than that, the Kapuls did not lose a single game in regulation.
After Wama made the starting eleven and helped the team draw their opening two matches against New Caledonia and Tahiti, the Kapuls scored ten goals in their next two matches combined, winning both games to advance to the final.
Wama and the Kapuls did indeed make the most of hosting the OFC Nations Cup, and their on-field exploits inspired future PNG soccer stars.
"It's amazing to see small children and teens come up to me and say, 'I want to be like you and play for PNG when I grow up'," said Wama. "Even one ball boy came and took my shin guard even though it was too big for him."
Now that Wama's and the Kapuls' work is done for the Nations Cup, they are one step closer to Russia 2018.
Aside from the success of the Nations Cup, Wama was able to capitalize on the experience in different ways than playing for the national team. "The trip was special because I got to share God's Word and pray for the team," said Wama, who recognized the importance of his faith through a personal career highlight. "I just want to thank the Lord for people who are praying for me and motivating me to do my best."
Before the Nations Cup, Wama and the Kapuls traveled to the Solomon Islands, where the team captured their first away win against the Solomon Islanders in a FIFA international friendly.
"It was a challenge to make the first eleven," remarked Wama, who started in one of the central midfield spots and played every minute of the two-game Solomon Islands campaign. "I am an average player. We have many good players on our team."
In addition to playing international friendlies to prepare for the OFC Nations Cup, Wama returned to his former club, Hekari United FC, and helped the team capture the Minor Premier Title, and a runner-up finish in the final of the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League (NSL).
In the time that Wama was with Hekari, he registered seven assists and four goals – three were game-winning goals in NSL competition; one came in the OFC Champions League in New Zealand (see twitter video here). The fourth came in a 5-0 victory for Hekari as they claimed the Minor Premier over their rivals Lae City.
"I've learned a lot. I am still improving from some areas of my weakness," reflected the Kimbe native. "Special thanks to John and Vonnie Kapi-Natto for everything and making my trip possible. And thank you to Coach Pill and family for everything and thank you to [Maranatha] for accepting me back to school to complete my studies."
Now, Wama looks ahead to his final year in Blue and Gold. The three-time NCCAA All-American is wearing a captain's arm band this year, and he and the Sabercats will begin their season in two days' time.