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.
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.
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.