Archivi categoria: Oceania
“Stiamo lentamente attirando interesse”: intervista con Charles Mitchell, presidente della federazione delle Palau (PFA)
Il piccolo arcipelago delle Palau non è certamente noto ai più per i suoi exploit calcistici, non avendo mai partecipato ad alcun torneo organizzato dalla FIFA o in nessun altra competizione ufficiale. Tuttavia, recentemente la federazione locale, la Palau Football Association (PFA), ha presentato alcuni progetti ambiziosi che potrebbero dar inizio ad un primo, vero movimento calcistico sulle isole. Nonostante alcune difficoltà oggettive, come una popolazione di soli 20,000 abitanti e il continuo confronto con lo sport dominante sulle Palau, il baseball, il presidente Charles Mitchell e lo staff della PFA sono fiduciosi che il futuro prossimo del calcio sulle isole riserverà molte più sorprese di quanto ci si possa aspettare.
Asianoceanianfootball lo ha intervistato per scoprire i piani futuri, gli obiettivi e l’attuale progresso del calcio sulle piccole e remote – ma non demotivate – Palau.
Quando fu introdotto il calcio sulle Palau per la prima volta?
Per quanto ne sappia, il calcio fu organizzato e giocato per la prima volta negli anni novanta, ma ho sentito anche di partite di calcio giocate all’inizio degli anni settanta. La PFA venne formata ufficialmente nel 2002, e diventò una federazione posta sotto l’egida del comitato olimpico delle Palau (Palau National Olympic Committee).
Quante possibilità ci sono di vedere la nazionale delle Palau ai prossimi Giochi del Pacifico e ai Giochi di Micronesia?
C’è una grande possibilità di giocare ai Giochi del Pacifico. Per quanto riguarda i Giochi della Micronesia, dipende se il paese organizzatore lo aggiungerà [il calcio] al programma. Il problema più grande per le isole micronesiane è mettere insieme funzionari adeguati, strutture per giocare e strumenti [necessari].
Quanto sono vicine le Palau a diventare un membro effettivo dell’EAFF, la federazione di calcio dell’Asia dell’Est?
In questo momento, le Palau si trovano in una fase di stallo con l’EAFF. Noi mandammo una richiesta nel 2008 ma da allora non abbiamo ricevuto alcuna risposta. La PFA non possiede un contatto diretto con l’EAFF.
La nazionale delle Tuvalu, un’altra nazione del Pacifico non iscritta alla FIFA, recentemente è migliorata molto grazie all’aiuto di una fondazione di volontari olandesi muniti di tanta passione, e ora le Tuvalu sono vicine come non mai a diventare un membro ufficiale della FIFA. Pensi che un aiuto del genere proveniente dall’estero possa rivelarsi utile anche per le Palau? E dov’è che la federazione ha più bisogno d’aiuto?
Sì, penso che un aiuto del genere possa risultare utile. Anche se, in un certo senso, è una sorta di terno al lotto perché la maggior parte di queste fondazioni dovrebbe fornirci cose che non possiamo permetterci come i biglietti per gli aerei e i posti in cui alloggiare. È molto difficile acquistare tutto questo visto che la PFA è composta interamente da volontari e non ha fondi a sufficienza. Direi che il nostro più grande bisogno riguarda le risorse umane e il personale per l’amministrazione.
Qual è il posto riservato al calcio nella gerarchia sportiva delle Palau?
Il calcio nelle Palau è attualmente in fondo alla gerarchia degli sport ma lentamente sta attirando interesse.
Ci potresti dare una presentazione delle squadre che competono nella Palau Soccer League, il campionato palauano?
Tutte le informazioni sul campionato palauano possono essere trovare sul sito ufficiale della federazione, www.palaufootball.sportingpulse.net
Visto che non siete ancora un membro della FIFA, pensi che le Palau possano giocare in alcuni tornei riservati esclusivamente alle nazionali non iscritte alla FIFA, come la VIVA World Cup o gli Island Games?
Noi lo speriamo, ma è ancora da definire.
Quanto è importante lo sport nello stile di vita della gente palauana?
Gli sport giocano un ruolo importante nella cultura delle Palau. Lo sport aiuta a farsi un carattere e fornisce gli strumenti per diventare un cittadino produttivo nella società.
Quali sono gli obiettivi primari della PFA per i prossimi mesi?
I nostri obiettivi primari sono di continuare ad organizzare regolarmente il campionato nazionale e dopo [di creare] dei centri sportivi scolastici e un campionato giovanile. C’è anche la volontà di introdurre il calcio nelle scuole superiori, ma [un piano] non è ancora stato stabilito ufficialmente.
Di Christian Rizzitelli
“We’re slowly gaining interest”: Interview with Palau Football Association (PFA) president Charles Mitchell
The tiny archipelago of Palau may be very little known for its footballing achievements, having never competed in any FIFA tournament nor in any other official competition. But there are ambitious plans, mainly from the local federation, the Palau Football Association (PFA), that could make the future much more different from what we’ve seen so far. Despite having to face some difficulties, such as a restrict population of only 20,000 and the local domination of other sports, especially baseball, almost worshipped as a religion on Palau, president Charles Mitchell and the PFA staff are confident that a proper footballing culture could be set up on the islands in the near future.
Asianoceanianfootball spoke to him to discover future plans, targets and the current progress of football on the remote and tiny – but not demotivated – Palau.
When football was played first in Palau?
As far as I know, football was organized and played in the late 90’s but have heard of football being introduced and played in the early 70’s. In 2002 PFA was officially formed and became a federation under the Palau National Olympic Committee.
How many chances are there to see Palau national football team playing the next South Pacific Games? And Micronesian Games?
There is a great chance to compete in the South Pacific Games. As for the Micronesian Games, it depends on if the host country will add to their program. The biggest challenge for most of the Micronesian islands is putting forth proper officials, playing facilities, and equipment.
How close is Palau from becoming a full member of the EAFF?
At this moment, Palau is at a stand still with the EAFF. An application was submitted in 2008 and no response since. The PFA has no direct contact with the EAFF.
Tuvalu national football team, another non-FIFA member Pacific nation, has improved a lot in last two years thanks to the help of a Dutch foundation created by passioned volunteers in the Netherlands, and now they are very close to get their FIFA membership. Do you think this kind of help from abroad could help Palau? And where Palauan football needs help most?
I do believe this assistance could help. Though in a way it’s kind of a “catch 22” because most of these organizations need for us to provide items we can’t afford such as: plane tickets and accommodations. It’s very difficult to acquire these items being that the PFA is made up of all volunteers and lack of funding. I’d say our biggest need would be human resources and administration.
Which is the state of football in Palau sport hierarchy?
Palau football is currently at the low end of the hierarchy but slowly gaining interest.
Can you give us a presentation of the teams competing in the Palau Soccer League?
All the info can be found on the PFA official website, www.palaufootball.sportingpulse.net
As you are still to become a FIFA member, do you think Palau national team could play in some non-FIFA international tournaments, such as VIVA World Cup or the Islands Games?
We hope, but it is yet to be determined.
How much important are sports in Palauan people’s culture?
Sports play a big role in the Palauan culture. Sports help create character and provide the tools to become a productive citizen of society.
Which are the PFA current primary goals for next months?
Our primary goals are to continue the sustainability of our Adult League and after school clinics as well as create a youth league. There is also an interest to introduce the sport to high schools, but yet to be official.
By Christian Rizzitelli
We are all ready to live the dream at the Confederations Cup: Interview with Tahiti international Tamatoa Wagemann
A former RC Strasbourg youth, with plenty of experience in France and Switzerland, Tahiti and AS Dragon defender Tamatoa Wagemann has certainly played a major role in the island’s rise to the world stage of football, as they will live a once-in-a-lifetime experience when they will play in the next Confederations Cup against Nigeria, Spain and Uruguay, one of the finest national teams in the world.
When were you contacted first by the FTF (Fédération Tahitienne de Football) to play for the Tahitian national team and how did you get involved with them?
I’ve been contacted for the first time in 2006 by the national team coach to play two friendly matches against New Zealand, which both ended 0-0. I was playing in Switzerland in the 2.Liga [with FC Alle].
Which were Tahiti’s expectations before the OFC Nations Cup last year?
I wanted to go there to win any match because I knew we had a great potential, despite before the start of the tournament we certainly were not the favorites.
How did you react after New Zealand’s elimination?
I was not surprised, because I followed the other match [New Zealand-New Caledonia 0-2] on tv and I saw that they were in trouble, heat was revealing to be a true problem for them.
In your opinion, where Tahitian football must improve most?
I think [it must improve] especially the standard of tackles and physical condition.
How is the country preparing for the next Confederations Cup? And the team?
The federation has set up an excellent organization to prepare this competition in three months, we’re signed to a contract and we are 100% at the service of the national team like professional footballers! We train twice a day, we have access to doctors, sessions of muscular training, physiotherapy etc…
Which is the current role of football in Tahiti?
Football is a bit in decline in our island since last few years, because it’s especially beach soccer and futsal the sports that attire most our youth. However our win at the Nations Cup has a bit saved football in Tahiti.
Why hasn’t Tahiti performed as expected in the last World Cup qualifiers?
The first reason is the lack of rhythm, because the first matches of the World Cup qualification have been played in August while the Tahitian championship [Tahiti First Division] started only in October. We didn’t have our best debut and it was difficult to recover from that.
What do you think of Tahiti’s results at the last Coupe d’Outre Mer in September?
I think we played a good tournament, especially considering our win over Martinique who were the reigning champions. We finished ex aequo at the first place but we didn’t qualify for the semi-finals because of the goal difference, it was a pity because we had the potential to go to the final.
Do you think that Tahiti’s connections with France could help them improve their level of football?
I don’t have the impression that France is helping us much, I think they could do much more but that’s all about politics and that’s not my area of interest.
Do you think that there are some Tahitian players who could play professional football? Could you name some of them?
Yes, without any doubt! There are some young players who have the skills to play professional football, I’m thinking of Alvin Tehau, Donovan Bourebare, Steevy Chong Hue.
Our last question: which are you future goals of the season and of your career?
I’ve just won the championship and the Tahiti Cup with AS Dragon, we are totally focused on the OFC Champions League and we’ve just beaten Auckland City [the current champions] 3-1 away. We have still two matches to play and qualify for the semi-finals and that would be great for Tahitian football. In June we have the Confederations Cup in Brazil and I take it as a reward, because there’s nothing better than ending [the career] with a competition like this!
By Christian Rizzitelli
The Asian Oceanian Football Confederation. The solution to long-standing troubles such as isolation, backwardness and scarce international competitiveness which continuously involve the OFC (Oceania Football Confederation) could be found there, in the neighboring Asiatic counterpart. Without any doubt integrating Oceanian countries in a fast-growing scenario like Asia would represent a decisive, historic turn for the football played on the Pacific islands, which have had few chances to attract interest outside their relatively small continent so far.
Obviously it’s just an idea and nothing like this is on the table right now, but let’s analyze together which could be the ten biggest benefits which would derive from the birth of the AOFC.
If you’ve ever heard someone talking about Oceania, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga on sports matters, they were probably related to the continent’s dominant sporting activity, rugby, in which all of them excel brilliantly on the global stage. Apart from New Zealand, where a footballing culture is growing up after the All Whites‘ heroics at the last World Cup in South Africa, barely you can associate the names of these countries to football, as many Oceania’s nations would find it hard even to compete against clubs from the Italian sixth tier.
The same can be said about clubs. It doesn’t make so much sense playing continually against the same opponents, especially considering their low technical level.
At international level, OFC club teams can prove themselves only at the Club World Cup, where they often have to face off some of the strongest Asian teams in an uneven and difficult play-off.
It’s by far more useful that these teams play with a certain regularity at improved standards, and not just once a year. And getting the chance to play clubs like Kelantan, Nagoya, Arema or Seongnam, despite they’re not Barcelona or Manchester United, would already be an enormous step forward to the right direction.
Oceanian football would heavily improve in many different aspects, from the growth of young players to a more professional management of societies. A technical development which groups any side of football both on and off the pitch must be considered the turning point around which all the the others would subsequently rotate.
4.The economical aspect
As football is considerably expanding as a worldwide multi-million market, the economical aspect is a hugely relevant part of the game. The Oceania Football Confederation actually lives of funds coming from sponsors and partnerships with other federations (the FA of England, the Australian FFA), and recently some drawbacks from Oceania’s football governing body showed how much they need to find a solid business stability in order of avoiding to affect the game in the continent. For example, OFC general secretary Tai Nicholas in September revealed that OFC couldn’t provide the broadcast of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers across the continent as it would have meant a cost of USD 140,000 for OFC TV, the confederation’s production unit, despite tv broadcasters from Tahiti and New Caledonia had already bought the rights. “We have to operate financially and be prudent with our funds and OFC TV was facing a USD 140,000 loss in the live production. This does not make good business sense and it would have been irresponsible of us to proceed any further,” he declared. “We apologize for the situation but there are high costs involved and great difficulties logistically in the production of such matches with games played across four countries within a few days of each other.”
Surely in Asia it would be extremely unlikely to face another situation like this, especially for matches such as the World Cup qualifiers.
And inevitably, the local federations of the Pacific nations can’t afford the costs of the organization of friendly matches at the current state of things.
All of us know how necessary is money in sports today, and for an upgrade of football in Oceania is indispensable a parallel economic improvement.
5.The passion of fans
In some Oceanian countries, like the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, football is considered the national sport, it’s widely played and gets thousands of followers. Local fans deserve to see their dreams come true one day, like watching their national team winning a once-in-a-lifetime match. And if you question the real existence of the passion for the game, just think that more than 10,000 fans watched the 2011 South Pacific Games final in New Caledonia, or that over 22,000 people came out to witness the Solomon Islands securing a 2-0 win against Tahiti in their first match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification games.
6.The chance of playing regularly
Factors like excessive costs and a lack of interest from international mass media contribute to positioning football at the lowest levels of the continental sports hierarchy. So we don’t have to be surprised if we discover that most of Oceanian countries play some international games just once every four years, during the South Pacific Games or the WC qualifiers, when these two tournaments don’t coincide, reducing even more the number of games that every country plays. And without any game time, improving is a titanic task-
7.A greater visibility
Let’s imagine that Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, two bordering countries, organize a friendly match. The Guineans, apart from playing a kind of derby with their Asiatic neighbours, would receive attention from an entire footballing nation like Indonesia, which counts more than 200 millions people. It would be a completely different new situation, as their opponents usually don’t number even 100,000 people among them (American Samoa, Tuvalu and so on).
And also national talents would take advantage of the visibility that Asian football guarantees, for not getting snobbed just reading their provenance on their identity cards. Because unfortunately it’s so difficult to find a player good enough for professional football on the Pacific islands that we shouldn’t be shocked to see things like these happening.
8.New Zealand: the British style in Asia
Not only the OFC would take advantage from an association with its Asian counterpart but also the AFC could improve a lot with a theoretical entrance of New Zealand, whose football’s impressively improved in recent years. Not only the All Whites shocked the world with their unbeaten run at the last World Cup, but also the youth national teams have shown glimpses of class, demonstrated by prowesses of high-promising talents with the likes of Leicester City’s Chris Wood, who has scored 13 goals so far in the Championship, and the labelled ‘KiwiMessi’ Marco Rojas, who is literally ripping up his opponents in the A-League.
A team who is based on a typical Britannic physicity with a huge amount of quality emerging: a more than interesting calling card for New Zealand.
9.The ‘Oriundos’: future heroes?
Some points above I had written that it’s very difficult to find some footballers suitable for professional football in the Pacific zone. Yet it’s difficult but not impossible, as there are Benjamin Totori from the Solomon Islands, who plays as a super-sub for the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League, Georges Gope-Fenepej of Troyes and Lorient’s Wesley Lautoa, both from New Caledonia, who ply their trade in the French Ligue 1, and the list could go on. But this list could even be much more longer if we consider all the players native of these Oceanian countries who could potentially represent their originary nation: just think of Marama Vahirua, a former France U-21 international who recently declared he’d like to represent Tahiti at the next Confederations Cup, Central Coast Mariners left-back Brad McDonald, who was born in Papua New Guinea, or Western Sydney Wanderers’ Tahj Minniecon, whose blood is mixed up with Vanuatuan heritage. There are many others unfortunately unavailable now, like Reading centre-back Adrian Mariappa, who could have played for Fiji instead of Jamaica, or Nouméa-born Frédéric Piquionne, who could have boosted Les Cagous’ team for the World Cup qualifiers hadn’t he chosen Martinique and France over them, or, referring to the past, 1998 World Cup winner Christian Karembeu, born in Lifou, New Caledonia, and the greatest Oceanian player of all time.
It’s easily understandable that most of these players chose to play for stronger national teams instead of their little-known native countries, but things would change had the Pacific islands the chance of fighting for relevant targets in the footballing panorama.
Why on Earth should Brad McDonald or Tahj Minniecon decide to play for teams who only get a handful of matches every four years instead of living with the potential hope of playing a World Cup with Australia (despite it seems unlikely for them)?
The birth of the AOFC would mark the start of a new era for football in Oceania. And for these small countries every chance of playing would be historic, a pleasurable novelty, which would then become a habit. Unfortunately the ideas of just few people to make a whole continent dream will never be enough, a turn like this needs that the first steps come from the OFC’s headquarters. The only thing we can do is waiting for some good news, and maybe continuing to spread and create new ideas. Let’s hope one day we’ll wake up seeing this dream come true.
EXCLUSIVE – From the Netherlands with love: Tuvaluan heroes Alopua Petoa and Vaisua Liva speak on their unbelievable European experience
By Christian Rizzitelli
October 5, 2012 was one of the days that Tuvaluan people would have never thought to live. A country with just 10,544 dwellers (according to the last census in July 2011), and extremely isolated from the rest of the world, has little chance of getting noticed in a continent like Europe, especially if we’re talking about football, many of you would think. However that day, this apparently unrealizable thing occurred for real. Two little known boys from the tiny island, Alopua Petoa and Vaisua Liva, managed to fly to the Netherlands for a three-month internship with VV Brabantia, a Dutch club currently playing in the country’s sitxh division, thanks to the superhuman work from the Dutch support Tuvalu, an ambitious foundation whose target is to make Tuvalu a member of the FIFA in a few years.
We asked Frank Westerink, a member of the association’s team, our questions, to discover how things have gone so far for the boys, who couldn’t have answered themselves as their English is still improving.
Describe how things have gone so far for Alopua and Vaisua in the Netherlands.
Both Alopua and Vaisua are very happy so far. They really gained a lot of new experience. They saw sheep for the first time! It’s getting colder and colder in Eindhoven [where they’re currently living] so they both have to get used to that. They even had white smoke coming out of their mouths without smoking! Football also is going good. Alopua and Vaisua are both getting better and better and are really part of VV Brabantia B, they even had the chanse to play with the first team and they made a lot of new friends at the club.
How have they settled down in the Netherlands? Was it easy to adapt to a completely different environment from Tuvalu?
Alopua and Vaisua have adapted to their new enviroment quickly. They gained a lot of new experience but were well looked after by people from the Foundation Dutch support Tuvalu and their football club VV Brabantia. With their personal guides they have all the possibilities to enjoy Eindhoven as much as possible.
What do they miss of their country?
Alopua and Vaisua do miss Tuvaluan fish! In Tuvalu everybody eats fish every day, in Eindhoven they eat a lot of other things. They miss the nice weather as well. It’s too cold in Eindhoven in autumm and winter, and of course Alopua is missing his girlfriend in Tuvalu.
What Tuvaluan people thought when they left for this new extraordinary experience?
In Tuvalu people were very proud and concerned. Proud because they would be the first men to go to the Netherlands to play football, for both of them it’s a huge experience. People were so happy and are hoping many more will follow. The football association, the government and the people of Tuvalu are following almost every step the boys are making.
But also they were concerned as well for the safety of the boys. The football club and the Foundation DsT were able to gain the trust of the people of Tuvalu and then they could eventually come to the Netherlands.
Which is the thing they appreciate most of football in the Netherlands?
The high level and the high speed. In Tuvalu football is at a good level but is played with a slow speed, mostly because of the bad condition of the football field. The field and the accomodation are of a high level as well at VV Brabantia, it’s almost perfect. Their coaches and team mates give them many advice as well, they do appreciate that a lot. Everybody is trying to make them better players.
Which has been their greatest moment since arriving at Brabantia
There have been many great moments. They played against FC Eindhoven, a professional Dutch club of the Eerste Divisie, they have been skiing and went to a match of PSV. The stadium was full with 40,000 people, while Tuvalu only has about 12,000 habitants [they saw more people in just a stadium than in their whole country!]. Of course they have been visiting some bars in Eindhoven as well with their teammates and they spent with them great evenings.
Did they meet some Dutch people who had already heard of Tuvalu? If yes, what do they think about the country?
There are really just a few people in the Netherlands who know about Tuvalu. Everybody of VV Brabantia knows a little bit about Tuvalu but most of them became interested when they knew Alopua and Vaisua were coming to Eindhoven. People at the gym of Vaisua and Alopua knew a little bit as well. Most people do know that Foppe de Haan was head coach of Tuvalu last year for a few weeks. In general this has been hugely new in the Netherlands.
Which is the biggest difference between them and the Dutch players they’ve been playing with?
Of course the biggest difference is the language! The thing that is most in common is the passion for football. Vaisua and Alopua are playing in a team of their own level. They get challenged by some players that are better, of course, but there is not much difference between Dutch players and them. There is one big difference for the clubs: in the Netherlands football clubs have many teams, for youth, women and men, while in Tuvalu most clubs only have two or three teams.
What Tuvalu football should do to improve their game?
Right now the most important thing is a new football field. The Tuvalu stadium has a terrible field, if it has rained a lot the pitch can’t be played at all. The field at VV Brabantia is made of artificial turf and is great to play at. It gives the players the change to play the best possible and it makes the game faster.
Besides that it’s important that the youth of Tuvalu are going to play football, both at school and at clubs. The real skills get developed during the youth and many Tuvalu players haven’t played enough football during while being young.
What needs to be done to spread a football culture in Oceania in their opinion?
There is already a football culture in Oceania but for the smaller countries it’s difficult to set up football as one of their most important sports. For countries like Australia and New Zealand is far easier. However the recent results of Tahiti are fantastic for Oceania, they will play at the Confederations Cup, an amazing result for them and the continent. For the smaller Pacific islands these results are important, as there is a big competitions with other sports like Rugby. However with time the best sport will get the most attention.
What do they do in their spare time in the Netherlands?
Alopua and Vaisua are very often in the gym. They are trying to gain more and more muscles! They do play a lot of football games at the Play-Station as well and they even went skiing, for both it was the first time. They felt like robots with the ski boots on!
If you had the chance, would they come back to Tuvalu of would they stay in Europe? Why?
Both of them would go back to Tuvalu. They would like to visit Europe again but Tuvalu is their home and that’s important in their country and culture. The families of both the boys live there and the girlfriend of Alopua also lives in Tuvalu. Both of them have an important role now as they’re promoting football on the islands.
Check Alopua and Vaisua’s progress and their amazing adventure in this mini TV series, from the Tuvalu National Football Association’s official YouTube channel! http://www.youtube.com/user/footballtuvalu
Just a few days ago it was announced that New Caledonia international star Georges Gope-Fenepej has penned a one-year deal with newly-promoted club Troyes AC in Ligue 1, France’s top tier.
It’s the second Pacific player that manages to sign for a professional club after the Nations Cup, with the first being Solomon Islands’ Benjamin Totori, who will ply his trade in the Australian A-League with New Zealand franchise Wellington Phoenix.
But many ask if things can go even further. Will Gope-Fenepej be able to affirm his abilities in one of Europe’s biggest leagues?
Certainly the guy has plenty of talent to show. His performances at last year’s Pacific Games and in the most recent edition of the OFC Nations Cup allowed him to make a name for himself around all the continent. But Europe is a totally different stage from Oceania and many others local stars didn’t have the best outcomes they wanted in their brief experience on the global stage, as it happened to Georges’s brother John, who played for Bolton Wanderers in England and for Nantes and Creteil in France, collecting only a hanfdul of presences over three years.
However Georges’s credentials for this huge chance in Europe seem more hopeful to make him a consistent player in France. Since now, of the few Caledonians who played professional, only Christian Karembeu and Antoine Kombouaré were successful. There are no reason whereby he couldn’t be the third.
Gope-Fenepej is a striker who plays mainly as a deep-lying forward. Technically he is miles ahead his fellow Caledonians teammates and probably all the others attacking players from the Pacific Islands. His touch is very precise and soft, which allows him to have a much better accuracy when trying to shoot, especially from close range where he rarely fails to strike down with his right foot, or passing the ball.
Georges’s powerful physicality also allows him to be dangerous on air, and this is why he can play also as a target man. His rugby player-like body, as for many other Oceanian players, strenghtens his means to free himself from the opponent defenders, despite he feels more comfortable with the ball at his feet.
Therefore Waddle, that’s his nickname among New Caledonia fans, has the rare ability of combining both technical and physical skills. Reaching this kind of high level of football despite being grown up only in Oceania points out how much innate talent he must have.
However Georges’s biggest limits are athletic. He’s not very fast and the completely different pace of a competition like the Ligue 1, compared to the Oceanian’s, could prove a very tough challenge to take on.
Consequently he could probaby expose his best if playing as a second striker. Between midfield and attack he can find more space than in a stationary position and could create chances for his team with passes or move more freely with less pressure. On the other hand he could be a good option upfront with his killer instinct, as forwards don’t necessarily need a great amount of speed for scoring goals. But there he wouldn’t find the space he requires to maximize his team’s profit with his technical skills. Much will depend on Troyes’s way of playing attacking football.
Notwithstanding his lack of speed he’s sure to last the whole game on the pitch as New Caledonia humid climate and Oceanian lofty temperatures generally imply high resistance and hard efforts.
Thus Troyes have a great tool in Gope-Fenepej. Their fans can’t expect too much from him immediatly as he need to adapt to a completely different level of the game, but after that he’ll be capable of showcasing his abilities in the right circumstances.
International career and data
Georges Gope-Fenepej started to obtain a reputation in the continent after his bursting performance in the 2011 South Pacific Games won by New Caledonia where he scored 7 goals in 5 matches, despite not playing in his team’s demolitions over Guam (9-0) and American Samoa (8-0), against which he could have certainly added even more to his tally.
But his definitive explosion occurred in June’s Nations Cup, particularly in the unpredictable 2-0 win in the semifinal against Oceania powehouse New Zealand, where he sealed the success with a delicious 93th minute goal.
Now he counts 9 goals in 11 appereances with his national team, but he doesn’t seem to stop right now.
AsianOceanianfootball takes a look at the top five uncapped Oceanian players abroad who could have played in the upcoming edition of continent’s top competition.
Marama Vahirua – AS Monaco – Age: 32
Papeete-born Marama Vahirua’s presence in the tournament could have given a major boost to Tahiti’s hopes of reaching Nations Cup semifinals and subsequently the third round of OFC qualifiers for 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The 32-year-old, who is now plying his trade in France’s second-tier with AS Monaco, is a full Tahitian citizen and despite having represented France at U-21 level, is still eligible to wear the Pacific nation’s shirt. With 309 matches and 69 goals in Ligue 1 with clubs such as Nantes, Nice Lorient and Nancy, Vahirua would have certainly been the most experienced striker of the competition and one of the biggest threats for the opponent defenders. He was awarded the Oceania Footballer of the Year’s trophy in 2005.
Frédéric Piquionne – West Ham United – Age: 33
West Ham United’s Frédéric Piquionne is by far the best footballer New Caledonia has ever produced after 1998 World Cup winner Christian Karembeu. The former Lyon and Saint-Etienne striker counts a cap for France national team in a friendly against Austria in 2007, but it’s unlikely to play again with Les Bleus and technically would have been eligible for his native country after new FIFA permissions of changing alliance if the matches played are only friendlies, as happened with USA’s Jermaine Jones, a former member of Germany national team. A powerful and strong striker, Piquionne has scored 83 league goals in his flourishing European career.
Wesley Lautoa – FC Lorient – Age: 25
New Caledonia have a solid and promising defender in Lorient’s Wesley Lautoa. The 24-year-old centre back was born in France in Epernay but holds New Caledonian passport thanks to his family’s heritage and is regarded as one of the most hopeful continent’s defender in Europe, with All Whites England-based Tommy Smith and Winston Reid. A muscular injury prevented him from playing regularly with his Ligue 1 outfit in his first six months at the club, after moving from second division team Sedan Ardennes in January.
Adrian Mariappa – Watford – Age: 25
Watford captain Adrian Mariappa almost joined Fiji national team for the previous Nations Cup but in the end he decided not to take up the place. The Jamaica international, who made his debut with the Reggae Boyz in a friendly match against Guyana in May, has still a chance to play for his father’s native country but now it seems highly unlikely he will join the team as his international career has just begun. Mariappa has Premier League experience on his shoulders having played 19 matches with Watford in the 2006-07 season, and was close to a return to England’s top flight competition after attracting interest from clubs with the likes of Wigan Athletic and Newcastle. He was voted Watford’s player of the 2011-12 season.
Brad McDonald – Central Coast Mariners – Age: 22
Talented left-back Brad McDonald represents one of Papua New Guinea’s stars of the future. The Kudjip-born defender plays in Australia for A-League Premiership winners and AFC Champions League team Central Coast Mariners, but he’s yet to debut with Graham Arnold’s side as he faces a hard challenge in fighting with the league’s most accomplished left-back Joshua Rose. McDonald made a name for himself in Australia’s top division after a stellar season with axed North Queensland Fury in 2010-11, which allowed him to sign a contract with the New South Wales franchise.
By Christian Rizzitelli
This is Nukunonu’s Hemoana Stadium, the only sport venue in Tokelau, a small island near Samoa with a population of just 1,411 people.
Its local community is very keen on developing a sport culture in the homeland, in particular on Rugby League, by far Oceania’s most popular sport, Netball and Football.
Perhaps it won’t be like playing in San Siro or Camp Nou, but for Tokelauans this is more than satisfying.
Two years after the World Cup – How much New Zealand football has progressed since 2010 South Africa’s heroics
All football fans around the world remember how amazing New Zealand’s achievements were at the last World Cup in South Africa. Especially for the world game’s supporters in the country, those moments seem like they happened yesterday.
But the reality is that we’re in April 2012, almost two years from those unforgettable heroics. Since then, how much has football progressed in New Zealand at any level?
The All Whites
Our obvious first analysis is to try to understand how the All Whites’ have managed to make a respectable name for themselves in this time.
The first datum that comes under eye is their FIFA ranking position: 130. Certainly it doesn’t reflect correctly their real worths and abilities, but if they’re classified under teams like Lichteinstein, Burundi, Namibia, Luxembourg and Saint Kitts & Nevis (with all the due respect to them), and considering that before the World Cup they were 82th, some questions need to be asked.
The first problem is isolation. New Zealand’s geographical collocation doesn’t encourage many big national teams to go there to play a friendly match. On the other hand it’s difficult for the All Whites to fly whole days to play somewhere else.
And this is the answer to their wretched ranking position: since the last World Cup, New Zealand has only played six matches, drawing twice and losing the leftovers.
This problem existed before the World Cup and will always exist, but there was the hope that they could have played some more games after shining in South Africa.
The second issue are their results after the WC:
New Zealand-Honduras 1-1 47’Wood (North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, 9/10/10)
New Zealand-Paraguay 0-2 (Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 12/10/10)
China-New Zealand 1-1 53’McGlinchey (Wuhan Sports Center Stadium, Wuhan, 25/3/11)
Mexico-New Zealand 3-0 (Invesco Field at Mile High, Denver, 1/6/11)
Australia-New Zealand 3-0 (Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, 5/6/11)
New Zealand-Jamaica 2-3 55’Wood 89’Killen (Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland, 29/2/12)
Four losses in six matches, only four goals scored, nine goals conceded in the last three encounters.
These numbers just show how poor have been the All Whites’ outcomes in these two years.
A premise is needed: it’s the first time in history that New Zealand arranges friendlies against oppositions like Paraguay at home, and we have to consider they were used to play against opponents with the likes of Tahiti, Vanuatu and Fiji. But winning games helps to build confidence and respect, so Ricki Herbert’s have to learn how to do it.
Consequently the next question is: why did New Zealand lose so many games?
After watching all these matches, we have to admit that opponents like Paraguay, Australia and Mexico (even if they were on dope when playing) are really too strong for them. These games overall served as experience for players, the result is a minor matter and shouldn’t be a worry.
The Jamaica game was a good experience too, despite the loss in a match where a young All Whites side deserved to win, as a preparation for the next play-off against the 4th CONCACAF team in the road to Brazil 2014.
And the draws to China and Honduras are acceptable as they’re on the same level of New Zealand.
We can definitely say that the results are miserable, but their usefulness has been huge.
A generational change
In two years the number of players under Ricki Herbert’s radar has significantly changed. Youngsters like Kosta Barbarouses, Marco Rojas, Michael Boxall and Michael Fitzgerald have all been introduced to the team, while some pundits (ex. Simon Elliott, Ivan Vicelich) are on their way to hanging up their national team boots.
Despite the scarce achievements, this new All Whites side has a considerable amount of talent and is a much better competitive crew, probably the best kiwis senior national team ever.
Comparing the 2012 All Whites with the 2010 WC heroes, these are the most important aspects to point out:
-Only seven players were based in Europe in 2010, while now there are eleven, only considering the ones who make regularly the All Whites squad (plus Cameron Howieson, who has become a first team member at Burnley at just 17)
-Four players are playing in the MLS (Boxall at Whitecaps, Boyens and Keat at LA Galaxy and Gleeson at Timbers), while just two were the US-based kiwis two years ago (Boyens at Red Bull New York and Elliott, who was even unattached in the tournament)
-There are ten u23 players currently involved in the All Whites, while there were six in South Africa (which was a considerable number anyway).
The tactical revolution
We all remember that the All Whites in South Africa seemed more to play rugby than football: they were extremely physical, they played long balls, they used more frequently their heads than their feet, they only thought to defend.
Infact they had the lowest percent of ball possession among all the teams in the tournament.
But it was an understandable approach to the game, considering that they were the underdogs of the group one of the humblest team of the competition.
Now they’ve started a new style of playing football. We can definitely say they’ve started to play football!
Their tactical system has totally changed. Ricki Herbert’s formation is a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 (in South Africa it was more a 5-4-1 or 7-2-1), and players’ characteristics are extremely different.
The wingers are quick, sfiwt and techinically skilled. For example against Jamaica, Herbert put Marco Rojas (5 ft 6 in, 20 years old) and Kosta Barbarouses (5 ft 7 in, 22 years old) on the wings, while the powerful Chris Wood (20 years old) was the only main striker in the team.
At the last World Cup, the three forwards (just on paper, because they defended for the whole games) were usually Shane Smeltz, Rory Fallon and Chris Killen. Smeltz was the smallest of them, with a height of 6 ft 1 in.
Players like Dan Keat in central midfield help team to build goalscoring attempts, while defenders like Winston Reid, who has immensely improved in this season, Tottenham’s Ryan Nelsen and Tommy Smith offer a good protection in defence.
The keeper will be no more a trouble for years, with the talented Jake Gleeson growing up fastly in the MLS and with Scott Basalaj catching the eye of several teams in the UK.
Youth teams’ coaches don’t have to focus on results, but on players’ development. But necessarily for New Zealand’s circumstances, results are a good index of progress, just because facing Oceania teams force them to win with a considerable margin.
The U17 showed how good has become youth football system in the country. Their performance at the U17 World Cup in Mexico was outstanding (with the exception of the heavy loss to Japan in the knockout stage), specially for their passing game on the pitch and their individual skills. It’s not a surprise if players like Cameron Howieson at Burnely have already made their debut in professional competitions, or others like Tim Payne at Blackburn Rovers have been signed by European teams.
These considerable improvements have been the consequence of a reasoned and very well organized planning, with the introduction of élite academies, like the Chelsea-linked APFA (Asian Pacific Football Academy), which are extremely prepared at youngsters’ growth.
Basic skills development for players aged twenty has already been done and the Young All Whites performance at the last U20 World Cup proved they were still suffering the rugby’s influence that football has always had in New Zealand.
Chris Milicich’s side was similar to the 2010 All Whites squad, with a team that thought more to defend than other, made up of massive, physical players.
The results in Colombia were huge, specially the 1-1 draw with Uruguay, but it will be difficult to see some of these young kiwis playing professional football in the future, apart from some whizkid like Marco Rojas and Cameron Lindsay.
The Oly-Whites can be be judged only after the Olympic Games in London, but the signals are not very promising after the qualification tournament held in Taupo in March, which saw them winning three of the four games played against the Pacific Islands narrowly.
The case is the same for the Young All Whites: the players have exceed the time of their best technical improvements and have been developed mostly on the physical dowries.
A little eye out of the pitch
The interest in football has generally grown in the country. The world game has become the most popular sport for boys under 15, and has officially become women’s national sport, with some Ferns playing at the biggest level in Europe (ex. Ria Percival playing the UEFA Champions League semifinal with his team FFC Frankfurt in Germany).
However the attendances have not been so exciting as expected, in particular for the Wellington Phoenix, the only professional franchise in the country.
There’s also the issue concerning the TV broadcasting rights, with Sky NZ that every time doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about paying for the All Whites’ matches.
To increase New Zealand football popularity the biggest step to take would be joining the Asian Football Confederation, with soccer-mad coutries like Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia who would be excited about the idea of facing an undefeated World Cup squad.
Despite the senior results on the pitch have been poor, New Zealand is trying to make the next, decisive step to become a real football team, in all his difficult circumstances for rugby’s influence on youth development.
The path is the right one, and in the future more talents will emerge in the country, with some good promising signs shown by the U17 side.
It’s hard to forecast where the country will be for Brazil 2014, but if they manage to further grow focussing on the technical and tactical aspects of the game, building international experience on the players’ shoulders with more friendly games to come and creating the right atmosphere for another crucial match like Bahrain in 2009, it won’t be utopia to see the All Whites in their second consecutive World Cup.
Ore 15.00 del 22 novembre. Orario che al 99% degli amanti del calcio non dice o diceva nulla. Partite di cartello non ce n’erano, non si giocava in nessuna competizione rilevante. Ma, in giro per il mondo, non esiste un secondo in cui un pallone da calcio non rotoli su un campo verde. E uno di questi palloni, nella sperduta Apia, capitale delle Samoa, in un pomeriggio soleggiato e tranquillo come tanti se ne vedono da quelle parti, ha scritto un nuovo capitolo di questo leggendario sport.
La partita in questione è Samoa Americane – Tonga. Partita che difficilmente genera interesse, dato che le squadre oceaniche non sono troppo familiari col calcio, per usare un eufemismo. Ma l’importanza, almeno simbolicamente, c’è: si tratta di una partita di qualificazione alla Coppa del Mondo, che si giocherà tra tre anni in Brasile. Ovviamente nessuna delle due squadre approderà alla competizione, poichè in Oceania ci sarà la Nuova Zelanda che farà un sol boccone di tutte le piccole realtà isolane.
Ed ecco allora che la partita che inaugura queste qualificazioni oceaniche si presenta come una delle tante, che si sono viste nel corso degli anni. Sole accecante, campetto da oratorio, un centinaio di spettatori sugli spalti, accorsi più per la (presunta) importanza del match, che per lo spettacolo che le squadre offriranno, con un pensiero comune: il risultato già scritto. Da quanto esiste, la nazionale di calcio delle Samoa Americane, cioè dal 1984, non ha mai vinto una gara ufficiale. Ha solamente affrontato le vicine rivali delle isole del Pacifico, più l’Australia. Ed è proprio grazie a quest’ultima che ha ottenuto un pò di popolarità, anche se molti calciatori americani samoani ne avrebbero fatto volentieri a meno. Infatti, la sconfitta per 31-0 contro i Socceroos a Coffs Harbour nel 2001 è il risultato col margine più ampio di sempre in un match ufficiale. Ma non solo non aveva mai vinto un match (il 3-0 a Wallis e Futuna nel 1983 era un match non ufficiale), non aveva nemmeno mai pareggiato. Solo sconfitte, solo umiliazioni, solo delusioni. In totale, 19 reti segnate e 291 subite. Se non si tratta di un dato indicativo…Per Tonga sarebbe dovuta essere una passeggiata.
Non che la squadra in maglia rossa sia composta da fenomeni, sia chiaro, ma il livello dei suoi calciatori è nettamente superiore a quello dei modesti avversari.
E allora si gioca. Si vede il solito, grezzo, rude, ma affascinante calcio, tipico di questi paesi. Ma si vede anche qualcosa di strano: siamo al 43′, e le Samoa Americane non hanno ancora subito gol. Con ogni probabilità già questo si tratta di un record. Ma non solo, le Samoa Americane passano in vantaggio, con Ramin Ott(discutibile la parata di Felela sul suo tiro), altro record. E vanno all’intervallo in vantaggio, senza aver subito gol. Comunque finisse, questo primo tempo sarà ricordato come un primo tempo storico, un primo tempo record.
Nella ripresa aumenta la pressione per gli uomini di Thomas Rongen (il quale ha un sacco di esperienza negli states, dove ha allenato DC United, Chivas USA, la nazionale U20), i tongani vogliono evitare la figuraccia, che sarebbe storica. Ma qualcosa va storto, terribilmente sorto. Dopo un pallone perso in maniera quasi “divertente”, il 17enne Shalom Luani sigla il 2-0, a un quarto d’ora dal termine, infortunandosi nella circostanza. Le Samoa Americane sono in vantaggio di due reti, in una gara di qualificazione ai mondiali, a poco più di 15 minuti da quello che sarebbe un traguardo storico, epico, incredibile, inimmaginabile.
Tonga però si riversa in avanti, e accorcia le distanze all’88’ con Unaloto Feao, costringendo le Samoa Americane ad un catenaccio finale per evitare quella che ormai sarebbe una beffa. In qualche modo, con calci, scontri, agonismo, sforzi, fatica, ed un cuore immenso, ce la fanno. Le Samoa Americane, i più scarsi, i più umiliati, quelli che giocano con un transessuale (il difensore centrale Johnny Saelua), hanno vinto, una nuova pagina del calcio è stata scritta. Quella che è da tutti considerata la nazionale più scarsa del mondo, ha ruggito. Al fischio finale si piange, ci si abbraccia, si esulta come se la Coppa del Mondo fosse stata davvero vinta.
Perchè alla fine, le Samoa Americane, il loro Mondiale l’hanno vinto davvero, in quel pomeriggio del 22 novembre, tanto normale quanto unico. Pomeriggio che verrà ricordato per sempre, in tutto il mondo del calcio.
P.S. Ieri le Samoa Americane hanno ottenuto il secondo risultato storico più importante, pareggiando 1-1 con le Isole Cook, sempre nelle qualificazioni ai mondiali, con altro gol del ragazzino, Shalom Luani. Si deciderà tutto nell’ultima gara contro i padroni di casa, e rivali, delle Samoa. Se le Samoa Americane vinceranno, si qualificheranno alla Coppa delle Nazioni oceaniche del 2012, ed al secondo turno di qualificazione per il Brasile, risultato mai raggiunto, chiaramente. Un sogno, quasi impossibile, che durerà 90 minuti. Ma dopo le ultime imprese, crederci è diventato lecito.
A cura di Christian Rizzitelli