Category: New Zealand



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.


Amidst the media frenzy surrounding the build-up to the imminent Euro 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine, the other side of the globe has seen Oceania’s premier international competition quietly get underway. The competitors expect nothing more – teams from the region’s confederation only seem to make the headlines once in a blue moon: European media has abandoned Oceania since reporting perennial minnows American Samoa’s first-ever victory in November of last year. It appears the only way to attract attention from the West is by being hilariously awful for most of your footballing history, before providing media outlets with the perfect underdog story by somehow mustering the firepower to record a rare triumph.

The OFC Nations Cup, Oceania’s equivalent of the Euros, has seen some remarkable stories since its beginning three days ago. With a place at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil and progression to a World Cup qualification play-off at stake, all eight competitors have their eyes on the prize. Honiara, Solomon Islands – the host venue of the tournament – has impressed with both the enthusiasm of locals and the ability of the Lawson Tama Stadium, which will host every game, to cope with two matches every day.

The understated media presence – just two tournament commentators/analysts/presenters – provides a welcome, relaxed alternative build-up to an international tournament

Although favourites New Zealand have won both of their opening games, albeit narrowly, their poor performances in the merciless heat of the Solomons has fuelled neutral hopes that another nation can triumph this time around. Every previous edition of this tournament has seen either the All Whites or Australia (now competing in the Asian confederation) emerge victorious.

This year, however, New Zealand have struggled to a 1-0 win over fellow Group B heavyweights Fiji – considered to be second to New Zealand in the Oceanian rankings – in their opening game, thanks to an early goal from Ipswich Town defender Tommy Smith. This close game represents a stark contrast to the same fixture 30 years ago, when the Fijians were destroyed 13-0 in what remains New Zealand’s biggest-ever victory.

The favourites failed to improve in the second group game: a similarly uncomfortable 2-1 victory against an unfancied Papua New Guinea team has left the rest of the tourament’s teams sniffing a potential upset. New Zealand are the only Oceania nation capable of fielding numerous Europe-based players – Papua New Guinea’s closest equivalent, former Serie A triallist Nathaniel Lepani was not even included in his country’s 30-man squad.

Against PNG, New Zealand relied on goals from 2010 World Cup veteran Shane Smeltz and West Bromwich Albion forward Chris Wood to see them through, even conceding a (slightly dubious) late penalty for Tony Lochhead’s handball. Papua New Guinea’s squad is comprised solely of Oceania-based players, with the furthest-flung inclusions only plying their trade in New Zealand or the Australian lower leagues; the All Whites boast Premier League talent, Papua New Guinea have Brisbane Premier League stars.  NZ coach Ricki Herbert did his best to hide his disappointment, saying “It was just about getting through this one – it was  39 degrees pitchside today.” The heat has arguably reduced New Zealand’s ability to simply outclass their opponents, resulting in gritty, determined performances replacing previous edition’s comfortable wins where the team was able to simply stroll to victory.

Tahiti receive a warm welcome from the enthusiastic locals upon touchdown in Honiara

By selecting the environmentally-challenging Solomon Islands (for the NZ players, anyway), the Oceania Football Confederation appears to have finally found a way to create a relatively level playing field at its championships. The defection of Australia to Asia in 2006, citing Oceania’s restricting lack of competitiveness, had lead to competitions becoming even more one-sided: whereas previous spoils had been shared between Australia and New Zealand, the removal of the All Whites’ closest neighbours and rivals resulted in NZ starting tournaments as overwhelming favourites, miles ahead of their opponents in quality and preparation.

As Nathaniel Lepani told me last week, “On the face of it, New Zealand should just turn up at the tournament and walk away winners, such is the quality of their team of near fulltime professionals, compared to the majority of “amateurs” who make up the rest of the Pacific countries. But having the tournament hosted out of their comfort zone, always means the Kiwis are going to have to work for their win.” The difficult conditions in Honiara mean games between “New Zealand and the rest” will be more open, competitive and entertaining.

New Zealand will face increased competition this time around, as neutrals hope to see a new team celebrating come final day

Group A, meanwhile, has been dominated by an impressive Tahitian side that has taken maximum points from its opening two fixtures, including a 10-1 thrashing of tournament whipping-boys Samoa. With Vanuatu and New Caledonia hot on Tahiti’s heels and battling for second place, the final group fixtures over the next two days should provide plenty of drama and entertainment. Group A has also witnessed the Cup’s most exciting clash so far in the form of Tahiti’s thrilling 4-3 triumph over the nine-man New Caledonians. 3-0 and two men down, with less than 15 minutes remaining, New Caledonia launched an admirable fightback that was only ended by an 87th minute settler from Tahiti’s Roihau Degage. A perfect advert for Oceania football, this game had it all: penalties, red cards, handballs inside the box and late, late goals.

The Solomon Islands retain hope of progressing to the semi-finals, and are currently edging a disappointing Fiji team that has yielded just one point despite boasting talents such as Waitakere United’s Roy Krishna, hailed as “the best player in the [NZFC] league” by Oceania media.

Despite their struggles, New Zealand will remain the favourites to lift the Nations Cup and take another step towards qualification for the 2014 World Cup. However, the lack of national media coverage of events in Honiara – the NZ Herald failed to even include details of the tournament in its “Sports” section, preferring analysis of Maria Sharapova’s performance in the French Open – means that the country’s arrogance, confidence of victory, and apparent lack of concern over recent shortcomings leaves neutrals rooting for the underdogs even more. For the first time ever, a Nations Cup competition could be won by someone other than Australia and New Zealand.


Midfielder Jasmine Pereira scored four times as New Zealand helped themselves to a more than comfortable 13-1 victory over strugglers New Caledonia at the Women’s U-17 Championship in Auckland.

As predicted here, the Young Football Ferns had no problem reaching double figures against a demoralized New Caledonia side who understandably began to give up hope with each New Zealand strike. As well as Pereira’s four-goal haul, forward Martine Puketapu bagged a hat-trick,  with Emma Rolston also netting a brace.

New Caledonia goalkeeper Deborah Selefen anticipates Martine Puketapu's shot

The game couldn’t have begun much better for New Zealand: within a minute of kick-off, Emma Rolston’s inch-perfect through ball found Pereira, who finished from an acute angle. However, the expected avalanche of goals was interrupted by Noe Valefakaaga’s superb equaliser on eighteen minutes. The New Caledonia midfielder ran onto a through ball and was presented with a one-on-one opportunity thanks to Meikayla Moore’s untimely slip before side-footing a measured finish past the otherwise under-worked Lily Alfeld. New Caledonia celebrated wildly and may have begun to dream of a famous, unlikely result.

Unfortunately for Les Cagous, it was not to be. The New Caledonians enjoyed ten minutes of blissful stalemate before New Zealand regained the lead through Emma Rolston. From then on, the Young Football Ferns never looked likely to be caught, scoring twice more before half-time through goals from Pereira and Puketapu.

Nevertheless, New Zealand’s English coach Paul Temple must have demanded improvement at half-time – New Caledonia had given his side an almighty scare by drawing level and the need for more goals was clearly passed on to the players.

Just two minutes into the second half it was 5-1, and although New Caledonia reached the hour-mark with the score at a respectable 6-1, they fell apart in the final half-hour. Daisy Cleverly made it 7 with twenty minutes to play, before an incredible six goals in the last fifteen minutes added significant gloss to the scoreline. Pereira’s fourth of the game, a side-foot volley from Laura Merrin’s cross, was one of the best goals of the day, but Briar Palmer’s solo effort for the game’s final goal was even better – waltzing past three opposition defenders, Palmer planted the ball past beleaguered goalkeeper Deborah Selefen to end the game in style.

New Caledonia will have to pick themselves up for their final game, a clash with the Cook Islands on Friday. The Islands will be equally determined to finally get some points on the board, having lost both of their previous games.

Elsewhere, the Cook Islands ran Papua New Guinea close in a 3-2 loss, but the Reds probably deserved to win an entertaining encounter. Papua New Guinea opened the scoring on 21 minutes through Ramona Lorenz. Rumona Morris’ cross caused confusion as it evaded Cook Islands goalkeeper Moeroa Nootai, and Lorenz capitalized as defender Edna Teio failed to clear.

Papua New Guinea's Alexier Stephen feels the force of a fierce challenge

Lorenz doubled her team’s advantage with a close-range volley seven minutes later, but the Cook Islands replied ten minutes before half-time through Tepaeru Toka’s looping header. However, an equalizer looked unlikely and Papua New Guinea restored the two-goal gap on 52 minutes when Nootai failed to hold Georgina Kaitas’ shot. Although Tepaeru Toka gave her team hope with a well-taken goal with twenty minutes left, it was Papua New Guinea who looked more like scoring, with Lorenz firing an effort against the crossbar.

Having used all three substitutes, Thalitha Irakau’s injury ten minutes from the end meant that Papua New Guinea were a woman down for the closing moments, but they held out for a valuable win. Cook Islands coach Angela Valamaka said “Obviously we’re really disappointed – the girls played well, but the conditions and the physicality of the Papua New Guinea team was a bit too much for them today.”

Papua New Guinea’s tie with New Zealand on Friday will decide who represents Oceania at the U-17 World Cup in Azerbaijan later this year, but the Reds will enter as huge underdogs. New Zealand’s huge win over New Caledonia will add even more confidence to an already assured side, and Papua New Guinea will need to be more clinical to have any chance of upsetting the odds.

Watch highlights of Papua New Guinea’s win over Cook Islands here:


New Zealand’s Young Football Ferns have thrashed the Cook Islands 7-0 in their first U-17 Championship match and already look set to qualify for the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijian, which starts in September. 

Underdogs Cook Islands held out for 18 minutes before New Zealand’s Martine Puketapu opened the scoring, and three further goals in the next eleven minutes sealed the victory before half-time. The Cook Islands started the second half in more determined fashion, and it took their more illustrious opponents until the 65th minute to score their fifth goal. After that, the Islands’ brief revival was ended and the floodgates opened once more as New Zealand scored twice in the space of five minutes.

The 7-0 final scoreline suggests that, as expected, New Zealand are the tournament favourites. Their dominance in the Oceania region regularly sees their opponents on the end of humiliating defeats, with the  All Whites even handing out double-figure thrashings against some of the confederation’s weaker teams. 

PNG

Papua New Guinea's Georgina Kaikas (left) celebrates her winner

Elsewhere, Papua New Guinea’s U-17 ladies earned a deserved 1-0 win over New Caledonia thanks to Georgina Kaikas’ impressive 18th minute strike from a corner. A constant threat, Kaikas should have opened the scoring after just eight minutes – after dispossessing New Caledonia goalkeeper Deborah Selefen and holding off the attentions of defender Priscilla Gohoupe, she somehow managed to miss the gaping goal from inside the penalty area.

The dismissal of New Caledonia captain Wakalane Ngaiohni just eight minutes into the second half ended her side’s slim chances of rescuing a point, and the skipper will be suspended for their next game. New Caledonia coach Kamalie Fitialata will have a job on his hands if he is to mould his team into serious Championship contenders. 

 

But for wasteful finishing, including multiple one-on-one chances, Papua New Guinea would have won by a larger margin. New Caledonia’s poor performance will leave them fearing a hammering in their clash with New Zealand in Auckland tomorrow – don’t be surprised if the game ends with New Zealand having reached double figures.

 


Like most of its New Zealand Football Championship (NZFC) colleagues, Waitakere United was founded in 2004 to compete in the newly-introduced top division of New Zealand football. Waitakere has grown to become the most successful club in the country, winning the NZFC more times (4) than any other side and qualifying for the OFC Champions League on multiple occasions.

Waitakere's crest reflects their club colours - red and white

In 2004-05, the league’s inaugural season, Waitakere finished up as runners-up but lost the Final 3-2 to table-toppers Auckland City. However, the following season failed to match this success as Waitakere slipped to a disappointing sixth-placed finish. The club bounced back well to finish top of the league in 2006-07, but once again were defeated 3-2 by Auckland in the final. 2007-08 saw Waitakere finally win their first championship, beating Team Wellington 2-0 in the final.

This win inspired the club to further success – although the following season they were beaten in the final by Auckland for the third time, Waitakere beat Canterbury United 3-1 in the 2009-10 final to secure a second championship in three years. In 2010-11 the club extracted revenge on enemies Auckland – a close final was swung Waitakere’s way by a last-minute own goal. The score-line, 3-2, also gave Auckland a taste of their own medicine.

Waitakere celebrate their all-conquering 2010-11 NZFC season

Waitakere have enjoyed two successful OFC Champions League campaigns: their first title in 2007, having only qualified for the competition after Vanuatu’s Port Vila Sharks withdrew, United beat Fiji’s Ba FC on away goals to earn the crown of Oceania’s best club. The second title came the following year – 3-1 down to Kossa FC of the Solomon Islands after the first leg, Waitakere recovered to cruise to a 5-0 win in the second leg and win the competition on aggregate. United again reached the final in 2010, but were beaten 4-2 by Papua New Guinean champions Hekari United.

These Champions League triumphs qualified the club for the FIFA World Club Championship Play-Offs, but in both 2007 and 2008, Waitakere fell at the tournament’s first hurdle. A 3-1 loss to Iran’s Sepahan FC in 2007 was followed by a narrow 2-1 defeat to Aussie side Adelaide United in 2008.

Waitakere’s squad boasts five English players, three of them goalkeepers. Daniel Robinson, a former Derby County and Blackpool youth-teamer, and previously of Burton Albion, is joined at the club by ex-Everton trainee, Northwich Victoria and Altrincham custodian Andrew Ralph, and Basingstoke-born Matthew Upton, nicknamed “Crouchy” at former club Auckland City. The club’s two English outfield players both have a wealth of experience from years spent playing with big clubs. 40 year old player-manager Neil Emblen, also the coach of New Zealand’s under-23 team, is an ex-Millwall, Wolves and Norwich midfielder, and fellow midfielder Martin Bullock has played at a high level for Barnsley and Blackpool, winning one England U-21 cap in the process.

Roy Krishna, regarded as the best player in the league, has attracted the interest of PSV

A multi-national squad is completed by Fiji international Roy Krishna, Papua New Guinea frontman Mauri Wasi and Solomon Islander Gagame Feni, formerly of Canterbury United. Forward Krishna is one of Oceania’s brightest young stars, and attracted the interest of Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in March 2009 as well as impressing A-League clubs Wellington Pheonix and North Queensland Fury. The New Zealand Herald has called Krishna “the best player in the league” and has claimed “it has become apparent he has outgrown the NZFC”. Only 24, Krishna has scored 14 goals  in 19 games for Fiji, including hat-tricks against Kiribati, Samoa and Tuvalu, and both goals in a 2-0 win over New Zealand in the 2008 OFC Nations Cup. He is the key to Waitakere’s success, regularly ending seasons with a record of better than a goal every other game.

The club plays its home games at the 10,000-capacity Fred Taylor Park, but the ground’s limit is rarely reached. Waitakere play to average attendances of just 400 in the league, which is lower than some Isthmian league clubs’ crowds in England’s seventh tier, but normal for the New Zealand Football Championship. Indeed, Waitakere could consider themselves lucky to have such a “large” support – poor old YoungHeart Manawatu are regularly cheered on by just 100 fans.

Thankfully, Waitakere’s Champions League games and derbies with fellow Auckland club Auckland City attract more fans. Waitakere’s Champions League tie with Fijian club Ba FC in November 2011 saw an impressive 4,000 flock to Fred Taylor Park, and gates are swelled by several hundred when Auckland City come to visit.

The Whites began the 2011-12 campaign in incredible form, recording a 3-0 victory over Hawke’s Bay United before thumping Otago United 6-0 away. However, since then, the club has slipped to third place, and although Waitakere are only two points behind second-placed Canterbury, their chances of winning the championship are slim with Auckland seven points clear at the top. Five losses in their fourteen NZFC games have cost Waitakere dear, and they will have to go through the semi-finals if they are to win their fifth championship.

This season’s OFC Champions League campaign has been more successful – Waitakere will progress to the competition’s final unless Tahiti’s AS Tefana can beat Ba FC in  the last game of the group stage. United began the group stage in imperious fashion, thrashing ten-man Tefana 10-0 and thumping Ba by four goals. However, a 3-0 loss to Tefana at Tahiti’s Stade Louis Ganivet could prove costly – it leaves Waitakere relying on other results. Should Tefana slip up, Waitakere will reach the final, coming up against Auckland City (who else?). It proves to be an interesting season for Waitakere, one that could see them further cement themselves as New Zealand’s most successful club.


New Zealand have pulverized Papua New Guinea 15-0 over two legs to earn the right to represent Oceania at the 2012 London Olympics Women’s Football tournament. An 8-0 win on home soil was followed by a 7-0 thrashing in Papua New Guinea, who had won the first stage of the qualifiers by beating Tonga 2-0. 

PNG goalkeeper Linda Bunaga prepares to perform a familiar role - picking the ball out of the net

The one-sided nature of the two-legged final is another example of New Zealand’s dominance in the region. Papua New Guinea had proved to be stronger than their Stage One counterparts Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, but against New Zealand’s Football Ferns, they were outclassed. With only one qualifying berth up for grabs in the Oceania Confederation, it would have to take a minor miracle for one of the smaller countries to usurp heavyweights New Zealand. 

The competition provided by other teams in Oceania is also not representative of New Zealand’s opponents at the London Olympics. Despite his side’s convincing 8-0 win in the first leg, coach Tony Readings admitted “there’s definitely things we still need to work on.” The confidence gained from their straightforward qualification could well be misplaced if New Zealand find themselves leaving the Olympic tournament at the first hurdle. 

New Zealand players celebrate their comfortable qualification

Papua New Guinea coach Steven Mune remained upbeat, saying “I’m really impressed with our ladies’ performance” and praising his team’s defending as “just awesome”. It is a sad fact that almost every qualifying tournament like this will end with a young, talented team overcoming their rivals in the early rounds only to be humiliated by the more experienced New Zealand in the final – even Papua New Guinea’s best was nowhere near enough.

Although OFC somewhat improved the situation in these qualifiers by excluding New Zealand from the first round, thereby avoiding more one-sided, demoralizing games, the problems still remain. The Football Ferns will join their male colleagues in London, and although the men’s side endured a more challenging qualifying tournament, their progress was still inevitable. 

After their first leg victory, New Zealand captain Rebecca Smith grinned “8 goals: it’s pretty fun for the fans”. That may be true, but the rest of the Confederation’s teams don’t seem to be having much fun at all.