Tag Archive: Oceania

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.


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. 

Palau – Going Nowhere?

Who? Exactly. Palau are one of a number of tiny islands whose football teams have been out of action for over a decade. Located in the Pacific Ocean with a population of just 20,000, Palau is never going to be a football superpower, even in FIFA’s weaker confederations.

Football on the island began in March of 1987 when a Palau side competed in the Oceania Club Championship. Unsurprisingly, Palau were knocked out by Vanuatu in the competition’s first round, losing 6-2, but this should have been an important stepping stone in making Palau’s team competitive against their equally minute rivals.

However, the country’s football fanatics (all 3 of them) had to wait until July 1998 for Palau’s next match. The delay between games may have been disappointing but the result certainly wasn’t – Palau registered their first ever win with a 7-1 thumping of Pohnpei, a side that has been coached by Englishman Paul Watson in recent years. The success continued in the next match with another 7-1 victory, against another Micronesian state. Both of these wins came at the 1998 Micronesian Games held in Palau, but even home advantage wasn’t enough to help the side claim the comparatively large scalps of Guam and Northern Marianas Islands in August 1998.

Palau were thrashed 15-2 by Guam and 12-1 by Northern Marianas Islands. Considering Guam themselves were annihilated 21-0 by North Korea in 2005, Palau still had a long way to go, but the future looked bright as long as regular, competitive matches against similar opposition were set up.

Unfortunately, this never happened. That miserable 12-1 loss to Northern Marianas Islands on 2 August 1998 remains Palau’s most recent international fixture. As the 20th century drew to a close progress appeared to have stagnated and football seemed to be in decline on the island.


The "Competition Calendar" section of the Palau FA's website is comically free of dates

However, hope was offered by the formation of the Palau Soccer League in 2004. The first edition was won by Daewoo Ngatpang who defeated Mount Everest Nepal in the final. Other countries had showed that creating a national league could be a vital step in forming a competitive national side; Paul Watson formed his Pohnpeian team from the National League’s best players, and this is something that could have been copied in Palau.

Again, however, this failed to materialize. While the league continued to provide hope for the standard of football on the island, with annual tournaments starting to be set up, the most recent championship was in 2007 and the league now appears to have been disbanded. The fact that the most recent winners were Team Bangladesh suggests that foreigners were more enthusiastic than the locals, and now that Palau no longer has any evidence of football being played places huge doubt on the chances of the island ever playing an international match again.

Incredibly, 2009 saw the East Asian Football Federation announce that they had received a request from Palau to become a “quasi-member” of the association, once more providing hope for a seemingly lost cause. But without a league and having last played over a decade ago, you could be forgiven for thinking Palau’s application may not be immediately accepted. That seems to be the case – with no further developments on the request, Palau will continue to drift further and further away from their next international game until something changes.

One bright spot is the Palau Football Association’s work to give youngsters the chance to play the game. Although the PFA website invites mockery by boasting that it reaches the rather modest sum of “approximately 200 youth per year through school and after school activities” any attempt to improve matters can only be seen as positive. Woefully short of funds, the PFA relies on “a handful of parents/coaches” to keep football going. It appears that an unlikely invitation to join the EAFF is Palau’s only hope – and although youth coaching is promising, an adult league and team is needed for this to happen.

With the right structure and leadership, Palau could have been on a par with countries such as Guam and Northern Marianas Islands, but no-one has taken control of football on the island, allowing facilities and enthusiasm to gradually rot away. It could have all been so different.

American Samoa, a tiny US territory with a population of just 55,000, recently hit the headlines after winning their first FIFA-sanctioned game. This success, a 2-1 “giantkilling” of fellow minnows Tonga, ended a mammoth 30-game losing streak and brought relative fame (if only for the allocated 15 minutes) to the team and country.

The national side had only previously been acknowledged by worldwide media in 2001 after an infamous 31-0 loss to Australia. Many labelled the side as hopeless and the notion that the team’s players had never kicked a ball between them was created. However, many also failed to realise that American Samoa, already huge underdogs against Oceania’s largest side, were forced to field their youth team after passport issues with senior players. Just one of their original 20-man squad was eligible for the game  – goalkeeper Nicky Salapu – part-time international footballer, part-time Seattle supermarket worker. American Samoa were also forced to field three 15 year olds as many of their under-20 side were unavailable.

Even the name of the country's FA, Football Federation American Samoa, seems backward

Since that loss, American Samoa had seemed to be making little progress, losing routinely and heavily against the likes of Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. In a country where American Football appears to be more popular, coupled with a smaller population than most of their opponents, this may not appear to be much of a surprise, but this incredible losing run earned the side a kind of cult following – well as much is as possible for a tiny island in the Pacific. People from across the world marveled at the haplessness of the team and decided to follow their seemingly hopeless plight.

The 2011 Pacific Games brought further misery for the players but further joy for the cult following that seemed to revel in American Samoa’s prolonged pain, celebrating each 10-0 loss as some kind of joke. The cult following were happy for the side to lose every game – should American Samoa somehow manage a victory, the enjoyment and humour extracted from following them would be lessened.

A narrow 4-0 loss to fellow no-hopers Tuvalu, a side coached by former Holland U-21 boss Foppe de Haan, seemed promising and bearable, and the same scoreline against the Solomon Islands was viewed as something of an achievement. A close 2-0 defeat to Guam showed considerable improvement from previous competitions but against regional heavyweights New Caledonia and Vanuatu, Iofi Lalogafuafua’s men went down 8-0, inevitably finishing bottom of their group with no points.

Their overseas “fans” rejoiced in another comically bad tournament for the Samoans, but many of the players had had their last opportunity to experience a win at international level – too old to play in future tournaments, they would be consigned to history as part of a side that became the laughing stock of international football.

What a shock then, when on 23 November 2011, the side managed the unthinkable and defeated Tonga 2-1 to scenes of jubilation and disbelief in Apia, Samoa, where the game was held. Many of the cult following probably had the opposite reaction – now they needed a new team to mock in pretend support, someone to patronise with fake encouragement.

American Samoa celebrate their first official win in November 2011

It was no coincidence that the win came soon after the appointment of former D.C. United, Chivas USA and US U-20 coach Thomas Rongen, who clearly instilled belief and tactics to the side. After the win, Rongen stated “This is going to be part of soccer history, like the 31-0 against Australia was part of history”. He recognised that the team had come the full circle in media coverage – mocked for their sheer inability to compete in 2001, they were now being praised for an improbable victory against favoured opponents.

While winning in itself seemed distinctly unlike American Samoa, the fact that the second, clinching goal was tellingly scored by Shalom Luani, a 17 year old defender-turned striker, showed that American Samoa has not changed – it has merely evolved. And good for them.