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We are all ready to live the dream at the Confederations Cup: Interview with Tahiti international Tamatoa Wagemann

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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

Introducing Georges Gope-Fenepej, New Caledonia’s football hope in Europe

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.

Characteristics

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.

Video highlights:

Top five OFC Nations Cup’s uncapped players abroad

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

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