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

Image  [Copyright to OFC]

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

AOFC (Asian Oceanian Football Confederation): ten reasons why Oceania should say yes

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.

1.International competitiveness

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.

2.The clubs

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.

3.Technical development

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)?

10.The history

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.

 

AOFC: dieci motivi per dire sì

Asian Oceanian Football Confederation. La soluzione ai problemi di isolamento, arretrazza e scarsa competitività internazionale che coinvolgono il calcio dell’OFC potrebbe trovarsi qui, nella vicina confederazione asiatica. Sì, perchè integrare i paesi oceanici all’interno di un panorama in forte sviluppo calcistico come quello asiatico rappresenterebbe davvero una svolta decisiva per questo sport per le piccole nazioni del pacifico.
Si tratta, chiaramente, solo di un’idea, di concreto non c’è nulla, anche se la Nuova Zelanda ha provato a muovere qualcosa chiedendo alla FIFA di disputare l’ultimo turno di qualificazioni mondiali tra i gironi asiatici, ma Blatter s’è rifiutato categoricamente, facendo scontenti un po’ tutti.
Ma andiamo ad analizzare insieme i dieci benefici principali che deriverebbero dalla nascita dell’AOFC.

1. Competitività internazionale

Quando sentiamo parlare di Oceania, di Nuova Zelanda, di Fiji, di Tonga e via dicendo, spesso sentiamo associato a questi paesi il rugby, sport in cui eccellono. Del calcio invece non si parla mai, visto che il livello è talmente scarso e modesto che la grande maggioranza di queste nazioni farebbe fatica a competere nella nostra Eccellenza.
Confrontarsi continuamente contro squadre di un livello superiore in un contesto come quello asiatico non farebbe altro che accrescere l’esperienza e la familiarità di queste nazioni col gioco del calcio; e ne trarrebbe beneficio soprattutto la loro competitività a livello internazionale.

2. I Club

Vale lo stesso discorso per i club: continuare a confrontarsi ripetutamente contro gli stessi avversari (per di più di un livello così basso) non ha senso.
Nel panorama mondiale, le squadre di club dell’OFC vengono chiamate in causa solamente in occasione del Mondiale per Club, e possono accedervi solo passando (un impari e difficile) play-off.
E’ molto più utile che gli stessi club giochino con regolarità a certi livelli, non solo una volta all’anno. Certo, Seongnam e Nagoya non saranno il Barcellona e il Manchester United, ma si tratta comunque di un enorme passo avanti rispetto allo status quo attuale.

3. Sviluppo tecnico

A livello di calciatori giovani, adulti, esperienza, arbitri, gestioni societarie:
il calcio oceanico migliorerebbe sensibilmente sotto ogni punto di vista.
Possiamo considerare questo il punto cardine attorno a cui ruotano tutti gli altri benefici.
Bisogna partire quasi da zero, ma le intenzioni e l’approccio positivo sono certamente un punto a favore, perchè la voglia per progredire non manca di certo.

4. L’aspetto economico

Aspetto di assoluta importanza.
L’OFC vive di fondi provenienti dalla FIFA e dalla FFA, la federazione di calcio australiana, membro dell’AFC dal 2006; possiede un capitale così ridotto da non poter contribuire ad organizzare amichevoli o tornei internazionali tra le nazioni membre a causa dei costi eccessivi dei voli aerei.
Una cosa che può anche far sorridere, pensando a quanti soldi girano nel calcio in quasi tutto il resto del mondo.
L’AFC invece dispone di risorse sterminate, tra emiri e miliardari vari.
Purtroppo tutti noi sappiamo quanto siano necessari i soldi in questo sport, e senza di essi la maggior parte delle volte (se non sempre) non si va da nessuna parte.

5. La passione dei tifosi

In paesi come Papua Nuova Guinea, Isole Salomone e Vanuatu il calcio è considerato lo sport nazionale, ed è molto praticato e seguito.
E’ giusto che i desideri dei tifosi vengano accontentati: meritano anche loro di poter vivere una serata di una certa importanza, magari in una partita di qualificazione ad un mondiale. Basti pensare che oltre 10,000 persone hanno assistito alla finale dei Giochi del Pacifico di questo settembre…

6. Giocare regolarmente

Fattori come i costi eccessivi e lo scarso interesse mediatico internazionale contribuiscono a posizionare il calcio a livelli infimi nella scala gerarchica del continente.
Così, non c’è da stupirsi se leggiamo che la maggior parte delle squadre affiliate all’OFC giochi solo una volta ogni quattro anni, in occasione dei Giochi del Pacifico e delle qualificazioni mondiali, quando questi due tornei non coincidono, riducendo ancora il numero delle partite, come capitato diverse volte.
Se non si gioca mai, migliorarsi diventa un’impresa.

7. Visibilità

Ipotizziamo che si organizzi un’amichevole tra Papua Nuova Guinea e Indonesia, nazioni confinanti tra loro.
I guineani, oltre a giocarsi una sorta di derby contro i vicini indonesiani, avrebbero addosso gli occhi di una nazione intera, composta da oltre 200 milioni di persone, a maggior ragione se legatissima al calcio come l’Indonesia. Roba di un’altro mondo, se pensiamo che gli avversari di turno sono paesi come il Tuvalu o le Samoa Americane, che messi insieme non arrivano a 90,000 abitanti.
E anche i talenti locali gioverebbero della visibilità che l’AFC garantisce, evitando di venire snobbati leggendo il loro paese di provenienza sulla carta d’identità. Perchè purtroppo è così raro trovare un calciatore adatto a livelli professionistici in Oceania che accadono anche cose di questo tipo.

8. Nuova Zelanda: lo stile british in Asia

Anche l’AFC trarrebbe vantaggio da questa fusione tra le due confederazioni, perchè vedrebbe nella propria schiera di membri una nazione che calcisticamente si sta evolvendo in maniera impressionante: stiamo parlando della Nuova Zelanda.
Non solo i kiwis negli ultimi mondiali in Sudafrica hanno dimostrato di saperci fare fisicamente e tatticamente, ma soprattutto a livello giovanile stanno crescendo esponenzialmente in capacità tecniche, come visto dall’under 17 nella spedizione messicana e da promesse come Rojas, Barbarouses, Wood, Payne.
Una squadra che basa le proprie fondamenta sulla fisicità tipica dei britannici con annessa qualità emergente: un biglietto da visita più che interessante.

9. Gli oriundi: futuri eroi?

Poco sopra ho scritto che è quasi impossibile trovare calciatori adatti al professionismo nei paesi oceanici.
Quasi, appunto, perchè alcuni ci sono, ed anche interessanti, come Brad McDonald (terzino sinistro nell’u23 australiana originario della Papua Nuova Guinea), Tahj Minniecon (trequartista mezzo samoano che gioca nell’A-League), Adrian Mariappa (capitano del Watford, originario delle Fiji) ed altri ancora. Altri invece, hanno preferito optare per altri nazionali, come Karembeu (neocaledoniano campione del mondo con la Francia nel ’98), Tim Cahill (mezzo samoano anche lui, gioca con l’Australia).
Ma la maggior parte di questi oriundi preferisce, logicamente, giocare per nazioni che hanno possibilità di qualificarsi alla coppa del mondo, o comunque paesi che possono vantare una certa importanza e rilevanza nel panorama calcistico.
Se i paesi membri dell’OFC avessero l’opportunità di giocare regolarmente e contro squadre di un certo prestigio, lottando per obiettivi concreti, ci sarebbero più calciatori disposti a giocare per loro.
Chi glielo fa fare a Minniecon di giocare per le Samoa una manciata di partite ogni quattro anni invece che giocare in un mondiale con l’Australia?

10. Per la storia

L’AOFC sarebbe l’inizio di una nuova era per il calcio in Oceania.
E per questi paesi ogni occasione per giocare sarebbe storica, una piacevole novità, che diventerebbe abitudine.
Purtroppo non bastano le idee di poche persone per far sognare un continente, una svolta del genere richiede che si muovano i piani alti.
Non ci resta far altro che aspettare. Sperando di poterci risvegliare un giorno ed esclamare: non è più sogno, ma è realtà.

A cura di Christian Rizzitelli

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