Archive for March, 2013



The sixth and final round of the 2014 Oceania region World Cup qualifying group ended on Tuesday with New Zealand completing a perfect qualifying campaign, winning all six games, while second-placed New Caledonia recorded a 1-0 win over Tahiti. After beating the Solomon Islands 2-0 in their final group game, New Zealand will face the fourth-placed team in the CONCACAF region in an inter-continental play-off in November for a place at the World Cup proper.

Solomon Islands 0

New Zealand 2 (Payne 3,88)

Their place in the inter-continental play-off already confirmed, New Zealand boss Ricki Herbert opted to send the majority of his first-team squad back to their clubs, travelling to the Solomon Islands with a team largely made up of fringe players. With the Solomons also fielding a much-changed line-up – only captain Henry Fa’arodo and winger Benjamin Totori survived from the 2-0 loss to Tahiti four days earlier – it was destined to be a stop-start game with both sets of players unfamiliar with their team-mates.

It was Blackburn Rovers striker Tim Payne who did the most to impress Ricki Herbert, opening the scoring on three minutes from fully 25 yards. Employed “in the hole” behind the main striker, Payne would prove to be a thorn in the Solomons’ side throughout, and will surely be rewarded for this lively display with more senior call-ups in the future.

Tim Payne boosted his chances of international football with a brace

Fa’arodo provided the home side’s biggest threat, and after two free-kicks had earlier sailed over the crossbar, the midfielder managed to force Jacob Spoonley into a fine stop on 22 minutes. The strike led to a spell of increased pressure by the Bonitos, but their momentum was halted by an enforced water break as Tahitian referee Averii Jacques acknowledged the searing heat in Honiara.

New Zealand looked the sharper side after the water break, and Kosta Barbarouses came within a whisker of doubling the All Blacks’ lead when his effort grazed the crossbar just before half-time. Looking for only their second win in the group stage, the Solomons took the game to their visitors in the second half but were frustrated by a stubborn New Zealand defence showing why it has conceded just two goals in the six games.

And it was the All Blacks who had the last laugh as Payne grabbed his second of the game with just two minutes of normal time remaining, pouncing to score after Barbarouses’ shot had been blocked. Solomons coach Jacob Moli has work to do, and will quickly need to establish who his best starting XI are; his team finished bottom of the group on goal difference, conceding an average of over three goals per game.

The performances of Payne and other fringe players will have given Ricki Herbert some pleasant selection headaches ahead of the play-off in November, but it was the inclusion of one player, defender Andrew Durante, which attracted particular attention from the media. Centre-back Durante, Australian by birth, became a naturalized New Zealand citizen at the start of this month and was included in the squad for the games against New Caledonia and Solomon Islands.

With New Zealand failing to receive official confirmation from FIFA that Durante was eligible to play, Herbert understandably chose not to field Durante against New Caledonia on 22 March, but with FIFA still playing hard to get, the coach handed Durante a debut in the hope that his selection would provoke a FIFA inquiry that would accelerate their eligibility confirmation.

New Zealand would actually encourage either the Solomons or the Oceania Football Confederation questioning Durante’s eligibility in order to get the matter deferred to FIFA – as the All Blacks’ performance manager Fred de Jong says, “It’s a waiting game for us. We are waiting to see if anything has come out of the game that would instigate an investigation into Durante’s eligibility.”

New Caledonia 1 (Lolohea 85)

Tahiti 0

New Caledonia ended a fine qualifying campaign on a high after recording a narrow win over Tahiti. Les Cagous took maximum points from their fixtures against Tahiti and the Solomon Islands, but their failure to take anything from their games against New Zealand cost them in the race to finish at the top of the group.

The first half followed the form-book, with the dominant hosts only denied by a combination of wasteful finishing and good goalkeeping by Tahiti captain Xavier Samin. Aided by a triple substitution early in the second half, New Caledonia continued their pressure after the break, while Tahiti struggled to create any clear-cut chances.

Tahiti’s Stanley Atani (left) battles for the ball

Just as the game looked like ending goalless – and therefore being, incredibly, the only draw of the entire group stage – New Caledonia finally made their dominance count with five minutes left on the clock. Cesar Lolohea’s volley ensured all three points stayed in Noumea, and that Tahiti were eliminated from the qualification process with just a solitary win to their name.

With Tahiti also having been soundly beaten 4-0 by Australian A-League side FC Sydney in February, Eddie Etaeta’s men look destined to be on the end of some heavy defeats in their 2013 Confederations Cup group later this year – which also includes world champions Spain, as well as star-studded Uruguay and Nigeria teams.


New Zealand guaranteed their position at the top of the group for 2014 World Cup qualification, and in doing so booked their place for a play-off against the fourth-placed team from the CONCACAF region. Their opponents, New Caledonia, were subsequently eliminated from the qualification process, as were group stage strugglers Tahiti and the Solomon Islands, who also faced off in the group stage’s penultimate round of fixtures this weekend.

New Zealand (Killen 10, Smith 90+4)

New Caledonia 1 (Lolohea 56)

Regional heavyweights New Zealand ended plucky New Caledonia’s challenge for the group stage title with a dramatic 2-1 win in Dunedin. Second-placed New Caledonia needed a win to keep their chances of reaching Brazil alive, and battled admirably being cruelly denied an admirable draw when Tommy Smith headed the hosts into an inter-continental play-off in the fourth minute of injury time.

Both sides had chances in the opening stages of the game, but it was New Zealand who struck first when ex-Celtic striker Chris Killen converted Leo Bertos’ 10th-minute corner. The early goal changed the dynamic of the game, with New Caledonia now forced to come out of their shell in order to stand any chance of grabbing the three points they needed.

New Zealand’s Tommy Smith (right) celebrates his last-gasp winner

Sure enough, Les Cagous upped the tempo, with attackers Georges Gope-Fenepej (the tournament’s top scorer), Cesar Lolohea and Bertrand Kai all looking dangerous, but on 26 minutes it was New Zealand who almost grabbed a second goal. Once more, a set-piece proved New Caledonia’s undoing, as Marco Rojas’ free-kick was met by a thundering Tommy Smith header, but the Ipswich defender’s effort bounced back off the crossbar.

The remainder of the first half progressed in end-to-end fashion; few clear chances were created, but, as half-time loomed on the horizon, Smith hit the bar for the second time in 20 minutes. A frantic goalmouth scramble in the visitors’ box ended with the centre-back toeing the ball onto the bar from close range, and New Caledonia survived until half-time with just the one goal conceded.

Les Cagous duly regrouped during the interval, and coach Alain Moizan’s team-talk had an almost immediate effect: just ten minutes of the second half had elapsed when Lolohea expertly controlled a Bertrand Kai cross on his chest before firing beyond Mark Paston, silencing the watching Kiwis in the stands.

Further goals proved elusive for both sides, and New Caledonia survived a scare in the last minute of normal time when Shane Smeltz’s penalty appeals were waved away by Australian referee Strebre Delovski, but the All Blacks were not to be denied. Just seconds remained when Smith made it third time lucky by reacting quickest to a loose ball and looping a header over visiting keeper Rocky Nyikeine.

New Zealand will be relieved to have avoided needing a result in the final game to confirm their group-stage win, but New Caledonia pushed them all the way and that is encouraging for the future of Oceanic football.

 

Tahiti 2 (Bourebare 28, Vallar 82)

Solomon Islands 0

Tahiti finally claimed their first group-stage victory at the fifth attempt, with a 2-0 win over fellow strugglers Solomon Islands. They were helped by Solomons player-coach Henry Fa’arodo naming a much-changed starting line-up – just Fa’arodo (obviously!) and Benjamin Totori survived from their last game, a 5-0 loss to New Caledonia.

Solomons’ player-coach Totori (green) tries to lead by example

The hosts began the game strongly, and it was little surprise when they opened the scoring midway through the first half when Donovan Bourebare crashed home a free-kick. Totori came closest to restoring parity for the Solomons, but Tahiti ensured their lead lasted until half-time.

The second half was disrupted by a string of yellow cards and substitutions for both teams, but it was Tahiti who came closer to scoring again. Steevy Chong Hue’s center was met by Yannick Vero, but the forward was brilliantly denied by Solomons custodian Sammy Osso. However, Tahiti sealed a deserved win eight minutes from time as skipper Nicolas Vallar beat Osso from range.

The two sides are now tied on three points with one match remaining, cast well adrift of New Caledonia and champions New Zealand. Tahiti will be reassured by a return to winning ways after their four-match losing streak, especially with the Confederations Cup in Brazil looming later this year. Solomons’ player-coach Totori has a lot of work to do on this showing if he is to turn his nation into genuine regional contenders, and his radical team selection may require several more matches to gel.


The Oceania region’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign will end next week, with the final group stage games on 22 and 26 of March determining who will represent the Oceania Football Confederation in a play-off against the fourth-placed CONCACAF nation for a spot in the tournament proper in Brazil next year.

Predictably, regional heavyweights New Zealand top the table after four games, having won every match so far, and only second-placed New Caledonia can still qualify for the inter-confederation play-off by topping the group ahead of the Kiwis. Naturally, then, all eyes will be on these two teams’ decisive clash on 22 March at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium; win and New Zealand guarantee their progress to the play-off, lose and they and New Caledonia will enter the last game on 26 March level on points.

All smiles: Gope-Fenepej has fired New Caledonia into second place

The group’s other contestants, Tahiti and Solomon Islands, have endured torrid qualifying campaigns – 2012 OFC Nations Cup winners Tahiti (who will be representing Oceania at this year’s Confederations Cup in Brazil) have lost every game, failing even to score once in the process. Seeing as this goal-shyness has been matched by an equally poor defensive record of  11 goals conceded in those four games, Tahiti could be in for some heavy defeats in Brazil if things fail to improve. Although the Solomon Islands do have one win to their name -against the hapless Tahitians, obviously – they have shipped even more goals, being drubbed 6-1 by New Zealand and 6-2 by New Caledonia.

New Caledonia’s unprecedented success has been largely thanks to the goals of Georges Gope-Fenepej, who has a record of almost a goal per game at international level since making his debut in August 2011. Gope-Fenepej netted a hat-trick in that 6-2 demolition of the Solomons, and with six goals in total he is by far the tournament’s leading scorer.  It’s unsurprising, then, that top-flight French side Troyes took a gamble on the frontman in 2012, and although Gope-Fenepej has only made one first-team appearance in his first season at the club, he has bagged three goals in nine games for Troyes’ reserve team. The 24-year-old’s impressive transfer will give hope to his compatriots and other players from a region whose stars rarely make it outside Australia and New Zealand.

New Caledonia legend Charles Teamboueon, who passed away last week

However, Les Cagous’ recent positive performances on-field have been somewhat overshadowed by the death last week of one of the best players the country has ever produced, Charles Teamboueon, who passed away at the age of 73. Teamboueon broke the mould by earning a call-up to the New Caledonia national team in 1965 despite playing in the national second division. As the man himself said, “That posed a few problems because at the time the national team was composed only of players from the first division.” However, Teamboueon emphatically justified his selection by scoring four times on his debut against German giants Stuttgart, inspiring his country to a 5-1 win.

Teamboueon opted to move to France in 1966, and within two years he had been selected for France’s national amateur team, reaching the quarter-finals of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. He retired in 1972 through injury, but was still managing New Caledonian side AS Mont-Dore as recently as 2007, guiding the club to a national Cup win that year.


Relegation-battling Torquay United look set to finalise deals for at least one, and possibly two attacking players before Saturday’s trip to Southend United. The Gulls this afternoon confirmed that they had reached an agreement to sign Sheffield United winger Jordan Chapell on loan until the end of the season, while just hours previously, former Torquay striker Taiwo Atieno hinted on his Twitter account that a return to Plainmoor could be on the cards.

21-year-old Chapell, able to play both on the wing and as a striker, joins straight from Sheffield United’s reserves. The youngster only made his league debut for the club’s senior side in December, and has only made one other appearance in League One this season. Finding first-team opportunities limited at Bramall Lane, Chapell was loaned to Torquay’s fourth-tier rivals Burton Albion in October, scoring just three minutes into his debut against Port Vale, just hours after the move was finalised.

Jordan Chapell joins on loan until the end of the season

Four appearances in all competitions for Burton followed, but was recalled in early December by his parent club after The Blades suffered injuries to several other wingers. This paved the way for Chapell’s league debut on 29 December in a 3-2 defeat to Hartlepool, but the youngster has been consigned to the club’s youth team and reserves ever since.

Since taking over the managerial reigns at Torquay in February, Alan Knill has preferred to use forward Ryan Jarvis on the right-wing, with Billy Bodin occupying the left-hand side of midfield. However, Bodin will miss crucial games against Chesterfield and York next week after being included in the Wales under-21 squad, and Knill may also have to move Jarvis up-front to replace the ineligible Benyon, who is unlikely to be able to face parent club Southend.

Knill revealed that his northern base helped him to spot Chapell several months ago, and was clearly pleased to have got his man: “Jordan is quick, direct and the important part is that he knows the league – he was out on loan at Burton and did really well. I live in Sheffield and when the United youth team had a good cup run, I watched a lot of their games and Jordan was one of their outstanding players,” adding that the Chapell “can play either wing or behind the striker, and he is technically very good.”

Although Torquay have yet to confirm it, ex-Gulls forward Taiwo Atieno today claimed on his Twitter page that he was “going back to Torquay”, matching Knill’s belief that the club needed to add “another new face at the top end of the pitch before Saturday”.  Kenyan international Atieno joined United in July 2011 in a one-year deal, and despite helping The Gulls to an impressive fifth-placed finish in 2011-12, scoring six times in 43 league appearances, he was released at the end of the season.

Taiwo Atieno could be on course for a return to Plainmoor

Jarvis was the cause of Atieno’s release then, with manager Martin Ling – currently absent through a long-term illness – admitting that he could only choose one of the two forwards due to budget constraints. He chose Jarvis, saying: “It came down to a flat choice between Tai and Ryan Jarvis. I feel I’ve had the peak of Tai but not the peak of Ryan Jarvis, and I feel the peak of Jarvis will be better. I only had the money to keep one of the two and that was the big issue.”

Atieno then chose to take several months out of football, returning from his half-season hiatus in late December to join a struggling but Edgar Davids-inspired Barnet side. However, the 27-year-old went on to make just four appearances for The Bees, netting his only goal for the club in the 2-0 victory over Barnet on 5 January. He left the club by mutual consent on 1 February, but challenged claims that he had been released, revealing “Due to personal reasons I have decided to take time out from football…I opted not to sign a new deal at Barnet and I chose to leave on my own accord.”

Knill had last week made room for new arrivals by loaning out wingers Saul Halpin and Karl Baker to Evo-Stik Southern Premier Division outfit Bideford Town and lending central defender Kirtys MacKenzie to Taunton Town of the Evo-Stik Division 1 South & West league. However, Aaron Downes’ red card in Torquay’s 2-2 draw at Dagenham yesterday – in which The Gulls played with 10 men for 86 minutes – and subsequent suspension means Knill may have to add another defender on loan or recall MacKenzie almost immediately.

Chapell becomes Knill’s second signing for United following the loan acquisition of Notts County midfielder Joss Labadie last week. Labadie made his debut in the 3-1 home reverse against Oxford on Saturday and scored his first goal for the club in yesterday’s game.

Labadie Loan Lends Lift


Alan Knill has today completed his first signing as Torquay United’s interim manager, adding Notts County midfielder Joss Labadie to the club’s confidence-hit squad. Labadie joins on a loan deal until the end of the season, and Knill will be hoping the 22-year-old can help United avoid the drop in a tense run-in to the campaign.

Croydon-born Labadie arrives with a fine footballing pedigree, having come through the youth system at West Bromwich Albion to sign a professional contract with the Hawthorns club in 2008. As a teenager at a Premier League club, loan spells further down the football pyramid inevitably followed, and Labadie enjoyed two stints at Shrewsbury Town in 2009. His second loan at the Greenhous Meadow was infinitely more successful, with the midfielder netting a 30-yard free-kick in his first game back at the club, and going on to record five goals from 12 league games from the middle of the park.

Unfortunately, his relationship with Shrews boss Paul Simpson was less smooth, and following a 40-minute dressing room lock-in after an FA Cup defeat to Staines Town in late 2009, Labadie was sent back to the Midlands, with Simpson explaining “I’ve been disappointed with his recent attitude.”

Labadie has struggled to break into Notts County’s starting XI this season

First-team football at his parent club remained elusive and Joss was forced to settle for temporary stays at Cheltenham Town and Tranmere Rovers, the latter stint resulting in a permanent contract in July 2010 following Labadie’s release by West Brom. Despite becoming a regular fixture in his first season at Prenton Park, and still making over 30 appearances in his second campaign, he was released by the Merseyside outfit at the end of the 2011-12 season.

Tranmere’s loss proved to be League One rivals Notts County’s gain, with ex-Torquay boss Keith Curle signing the 6 foot 3 in youngster last summer on a one-year deal with an option of a second year. Just four league starts have followed, with Labadie struggling to hold down a regular place in a talented County midfield also containing the likes of playmaker Alan Judge, captain Neal Bishop and Trinidad & Tobago international Andre Boucaud.

Although Labadie has shown signs of promise and impressed County fans in some of his 16 cameo appearances from the bench, the player appears eager to play regular first-team football, and the loan move suits both him and the club – the Magpies are thought to be looking to slash their wage bill as the end of the season approaches. With it unknown whether County will choose to keep Labadie on for another year, the midfielder will be looking to use his loan spell at Plainmoor to put himself in the shop window for League One and Two clubs.

Torquay have struggled for quality and creativity in midfield this season, with playmaker Eunan O’Kane leaving for AFC Bournemouth at the start of the season and captain Lee Mansell struggling to emulate his fine goalscoring form of 2011-12.  Manager Martin Ling, his assistant Shaun Taylor – who took over in February due to Ling’s illness – and current boss Alan Knill have generally preferred to parter the industrious Mansell with a defensive midfielder like Damon Lathrope or Craig Easton. To the dismay of the club’s supporters, Welshman Nathan Craig, believed by many to be the most creative player in the squad, has been deployed on the right-hand side of midfield (despite being left-footed) and even left out of the matchday squad in recent weeks.

Knill is thought to be looking for further additions before the visit of Oxford on Saturday

Knill will be hoping that Labadie can add some much-needed quality and help United in their battle to survive in League Two; he hailed Labadie as a “big powerful player who can also pass the ball,” adding “He has always been someone that I thought I’d like to sign and never really had the opportunity.” County have a 24-hour recall on the midfielder after an initial 28-day stay in Devon.

United’s interim boss also confirmed that Labadie, his first signing for the club, would go “straight into the squad” for Saturday’s clash with Oxford United. Further loan arrivals may also be on the cards, as the Western Morning News today reported that Knill was looking to free up wages and squad space by loaning young wingers Saul Halpin and Karl Baker to Bideford and first-year pro Kirtys MacKenzie to Taunton Town, whilst simultaneously concentrating on “another forward signing”.

BBC Sport’s Brent Pilnick similarly expects Knill to make further additions in the coming days, revealing that he believes “at least one more” player will join United before the end of the week. That can only be good news for Torquay who need all the help they can get, having gone without a win since the 1-0 Devon derby victory over Exeter City on 28 January.


Torquay United finally ended their mammoth seven-game losing streak yesterday, grinding out a 0-0 draw with fellow League Two strugglers Accrington Stanley. In doing so, Torquay avoided equalling an unwanted club record of eight consecutive defeats. The club have slipped down the league table since Martin Ling’s absence through illness, and their freefall began under assistant manager Shaun Taylor’s temporary reign before the board appointed former Scunthorpe boss Alan Knill in late February in a bid to stop the rot.

United are without a win since the defeat of Exeter on 28 January, and the seven consecutive losses since that game saw the side drop from a position of mid-table anonymity into the depths of an incredibly close relegation battle. Just two points now separate the Gulls from bottom club AFC Wimbledon, and although Torquay have the best goal difference of the bottom nine clubs, they unsurprisingly have the worst form of those around them.

United goalkeeper Michael Poke helps earn a much-needed draw

United goalkeeper Michael Poke helps earn a much-needed draw

However, the point gleaned from the draw with Accrington – themselves only one point above the drop zone – should provide a much-needed injection of confidence into a United side that has scored just twice in their last five games (and even that goal was heavily deflected!) and provide a platform for further improvement. Supporters will be hoping that ex-Bury boss Knill can use his contacts at Everton and Manchester United to deliver the handful of loan signings necessary to freshen up his squad, but as new Plymouth manager John Sheridan has found out, attracting players to clubs based in the South West is more of a challenge than some would imagine.

Indeed, despite previously  predicting new signings to arrive before the Accrington game, Knill admitted earlier this week: “It is proving quite difficult [to sign players] but the players are definitely there. We’ve tried for about 10 players; some have said ‘no’ straightaway because the location is such that they don’t want to move.” Knill now has a full week to complete any loan deals before mid-table Oxford United visit Plainmoor next Saturday, and it is crucial that he delivers. Although goalscoring remains a huge problem, central defence cover may be a priority for Knill with key defender Aaron Downes sidelined for a further 2-3 weeks.

York have relieved Gary Mills of his duties with 10 games to go

Elsewhere in League Two, the division’s other side in freefall, newly-promoted York City, have sacked manager Gary Mills after a torrid run of 11 winless games. Mills had been in charge at Bootham Crescent since October 2010 and guided the club to both promotion from the Conference and the FA Trophy last season, but his board felt a change was necessary after this weekend’s 2-0 reverse at home to Bradford if they were to avoid an immediate return to non-league football. The club’s directors must now move quickly to appoint Mills’ successor, with York now only four points clear of the League Two trapdoor, and with limited time for the new man to turn things around.