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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

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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

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 improvements

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.

Under 17

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.

Under 20

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.

Under 23

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.

Conclusion

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.

By Christian Rizzitelli  Follow me on 

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