Johnica Collins of Pago Pago, American Samoa will carry the territory’s flag at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia opening ceremony tonight, June 14, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.
“I am very excited to be going to the first game of the (FIFA) World Cup,” Collins said. “I hope my family can see me on TV.”
Collins and 210 other Football For Friendship participants will carry their country’s flags during the opening ceremony, signifying all of FIFA’s 211 member associations from six confederations in the world. After, they will get to enjoy an experience of a lifetime by watching the first game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, where hosts Russia take on Saudi Arabia.
This activity ends a busy five-day long schedule of events for the Football For Friendship program, an international children’s social program implemented by Gazprom, one of FIFA’s major partners.
Football For Friendship offered two slots to each of FIFA’s 211 MA’s for two 12 year-olds, one to attend the program as a player, and the other either a journalist of the same age, or a young coach age 14-16. Unfortunately, the second 12-year-old selected did not get his passport on time.
“We are extremely grateful to Gazprom and FIFA for giving extending this invitation to not only American Samoa, but to all 11 countries in the Oceania Football Confederation,” said FFAS President, Sen. Faiivae Iuli Alex Godinet. “It is an experience of a lifetime for all of these 12-year old children.”
All the players were divided into 32 teams, each named after an endangered species in the world. They started off with a three-day camp called the International Friendship Camp, where they received instruction from their young coaches, and teachings of the program’s 9 core values by its educators, or team leaders. The nine values are: Friendship, Equality, Fairness, Health, Peace, Devotion, Victory, Traditions and Honor.
Now with the program nearing its end, Collins can only reminisce about what happened during the week.
“So far my favorite part was the games and the tournament,” Collins said. “I really enjoyed it, made a lot of new friends and saw how really high the players’ skills are. I know what I need to work on when I get back home, and that is to improve my own personal skills like juggling, dribbling and shooting the ball.”
Collins, the son of Tavita and Resina Collins of Pago Pago, is an avid soccer player back home, playing for Pago Youth Soccer Club, and has two older brothers who also play the sport. His older brother Joseph ‘Peni’ Collins was a member of the American Samoa U19 squad that went to the Cook Islands last month, and who will also be a part of the U16 team going to Tonga in July.
Collins and his team, Team Saiga, made it as far as the quarterfinals during the Football For Friendship World Championship tournament. He played goalkeeper, but says that he wants to be a striker, and will train in that position when he goes back home.
“We encourage all children to come and take part in all our programs, because when these types of invitations come to us, we select from them,” said FFAS CEO Tavita Taumua. “So find a club around the area where you live, join them and you will have fun playing soccer in all our programs and competitions. Who knows, we may select you when another program like this calls for young children to represent American Samoa.”
Along with the children, an adult was also sent along to chaperone each child to Moscow, Russia.