Georges Gope-Fenepej makes New Caledonia proud reaching another feat in French Football

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Georges Gope-Fenepej is one of the most successful Pacific Islanders in Oceania football history, just like Roy Krishna, his compatriot Jekob Jeno, Marama Vahirua and Brian Kaltak, he left the Pacific Islands to turn into professional football player. In Gope-Fenepej’s case he left for France after making history as he helped his New Caledonian national team to eliminate New Zealand for the first time in the 2012 OFC Nations Cup – ultimately losing the grand final to Tahiti by 1-0.

In France he already went to big stages: ESTAC Troyes was his first stop, being the first player to have worn the jersey of the New Caledonia national team to play in Ligue 1, the top-tier of French football. The striker kept himself in Troyes for two seasons and a half where in the period he was loaned to US Boulogne before moving to Amiens in 2015. At Amiens he achieved the incredible feat of climbing with the team from the National (third division) to Ligue 1, participating in the team’s entire journey. He then moved to Le Mans where he again achieved promotion from the National to Ligue 2.

Now at 34 years of age the New Caledonian legend has written another great chapter in his carreer by helping Concarneau win the Championnat National and getting then promoted to Ligue 2 for the first time in its history, after joining the club back in 2021.

Gope-Fenepej (right) playing for Concarneau this season – Concarneau Media

In the current season Gope-Fenepej has played 18 of a possible 34 games contributing with one assist and starting 29% of the matches. He became the third player born in New Caledonia to win a title in France, after icons Christian Karembeu and Antoine Kombouaré who played for the French national team when there was no national team in the archipelago.

At 34 years of age it will take us a while to know what will be the fate of his career now, whether he will continue at Concarneau even though he lost a lot of space in the team at the end of the season, whether he will look for another club in the National or if even a return to his homeland in on the cards.

The Oceania Football Center congratulates Gope-Fenepej for his brilliant career and achievement, and may he inspire more players from New Caledonia and the Pacific Islands to pursue their goals in becoming professional football players.


New Zealand takes on United States at U-20 World Cup’s Round of 16

The Junior All Whites, have made it to the Round of 16 in the U-20 World Cup held in Argentina. Despite a tough 5-0 loss to the host nation, they managed to secure their spot in the knockout stage by finishing third in Group A, as the second best third-placed team overall.

New Zealand’s journey in the group stage began with a 1-0 victory over Guatemala, a result that gave them a strong start in the tournament. They followed it up with a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Uzbekistan, where they were denied a win in the stoppage time.

Now, the Junior All Whites face a formidable challenge in the Round of 16 as they prepare to take on the United States. The American team has been in outstanding form, winning all three of their group stage matches without conceding a single goal. Their defense has been rock-solid, keeping clean sheets against Ecuador, Fiji, and Slovakia.

New Zealand players before the match against Ecuador – FIFA

The match between New Zealand and the United States is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, May 31, at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in Mendoza, Argentina, with a kick-off time of 5:30am NZT. The Junior All Whites will need to bring their best performance and overcome the strong American opposition to progress further in the tournament.

Despite the daunting challenge ahead, New Zealand’s young talents will be fueled by their previous successes and motivated to prove themselves on the world stage. With their positive results against Guatemala and Uzbekistan, they have shown that they are capable of competing against strong teams.

As the match unfolds, New Zealand’s fans will be eagerly supporting their team from afar, hoping for an impressive performance and a victory that would see the Junior All Whites progress to the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup for the first time ever.

Suva: Pacific Islands’ strength will be missed as Saniel, Soromon and Tahioa will not be available for Fiji FACT

Suva football club is set to face a significant setback in the upcoming Fiji FACT tournament as they will be missing the services of three key players from the Pacific island nations of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. The absence of Alex Saniel and Azariah Soromon from Vanuatu, as well as Marlon Tahioa from the Solomon Islands, is expected to impact Suva’s performance in the competition.

During the OFC Champions League, these three players played an instrumental role in Suva’s journey, showcasing their impressive skills and contributing to the team’s success. Starting from the pool games and all the way to the final, where Suva unfortunately lost 4-2 to Auckland City, Saniel, Soromon, and Tahioa displayed their talent and made significant contributions to the team’s performance.

Saniel, Soromon and Tahioa

Azariah Soromon had an outstanding tournament, scoring four goals and proving to be a potent attacking threat for Suva. Both Marlon Tahioa and Alex Saniel also played their part by scoring two goals each throughout the tournament. In the final against Auckland City, Tahioa and Saniel were the ones who found the back of the net for Suva.

However, despite their vital role for Suva, these players will not be available for the Fiji FACT due to their international commitments. Saniel and Soromon are part of the Vanuatu national team, which will be participating in the Intercontinental Cup in India the following month. Meanwhile, Marlon Tahioa will be representing the Solomon Islands in an international match.

The absence of these key players will undoubtedly be felt by Suva, as their skills, experience, and goal-scoring ability will be sorely missed. Their contributions in the OFC Champions League not only helped Suva reach the final but also showcased their value to the team. Head coach Babs Khan of Suva has confirmed this information and acknowledges the impact it will have on the team.

Despite the setback, Suva will need to regroup and find ways to compensate for the absence of these players. The coaching staff and remaining squad members will have to step up their game, adapt their strategies, and find suitable replacements to maintain Suva’s competitive edge in the Fiji FACT tournament.

It remains to be seen how Suva will fare in the absence of Alex Saniel, Azariah Soromon, and Marlon Tahioa. Their international commitments demonstrate their talent and recognition at a higher level, but their absence will certainly be a loss for Suva’s ambitions in the Fiji FACT.

OFC Champions League 2023 individual prizes: Howieson, De Vries and Mateisuva awarded

As the OFC Champions League come to an end in Vanuatu, the Oceania Football Confederation announced the individual awards for the 2023 edition of the most important club football tournament of the South Pacific.

Ryan de Vries, Akuila Mateisuva and Cam Howieson – OFC Media

The top scorer of the tournament was Auckland City’s Ryan de Vries, as he scored five goals in the competition. De Vries was a decisor factor in both semifinal and final matches as he scored two goals in each match. Until the dying minutes of the final, De Vries was tied with Vanuatu international and Suva’s striker Azariah Soromon with four, but with the final goal of the decisive encounter he ended up as the top scorer.

Akuila Mateisuva was chosen the best goalkeeper of the tournament. The Fijian international was key for the Suva side to reach the grand final, making a number of stops in the decisive matches of the competiton – including avoiding Auckland City to score more in the grand final.

The All Whites-member Cam Howieson was awarded as the best player of the tournament. The Auckland City’s captain was crucial especially in the final, giving one assist and scoring one goal in the 4-2 win for his side. Howieson, a starter in all matches for his side, was the maestro for the Navy Blues and crucial with his experience.

Simione Nabenu after injury in O-League’s final: “I can’t even walk nicely”

Suva had a great match against New Zealand-powerhouse Auckland City in the OFC Champions League this last weekend in Vanuatu. During the match, two players of the Fijian outfit were forced out due injuries: Simione Nabenu and Samuela Drudru.

The defender Nabenu was having a good match until he felt the back of his thigh, falling in pain and later being subbed by Merril Nand. The Fijian international talked to Oceania Football Center about the gravity of the injury: “I’m still in pain. It seems serious, I can’t even walk nicely“, Nabenu stated.

Nabenu in pain – Suva FC

Suva FA posted in its official media account about Nabenu: “Wishing Simione Nabenu a quick recovery and hope to see you back playing at the top level soon. Vinaka for the effort that you put in and also for being there when the team needed you“.

Nabenu confirmed he had a harmstring to Oceania Football Center. Suva’s head coach Babs Khan said Simione Nabenu will not be part of his squad for the upcoming Fiji FACT – not stating about his injury -, as he heads back to New Zealand for work commitments.

Telekom S-League: Solomon Warriors return to action with important win over strong Henderson Eels

The return of Solomon Warriors to the Telekom S-League in the Solomon Islands was met with great anticipation and excitement among football fans in the country. After their participation in the OFC Champions League, where they represented the Solomon Islands on a regional level, the team was back on home soil to regroup and resume their campaign in TSL. The match against the formidable Henderson Eels at Lawson Tama Stadium proved to be a crucial test for the Warriors.

Under the guidance of coach Franco Ne’e, Solomon Warriors showcased their determination and skill on the pitch. In a tightly contested game, they emerged victorious with a significant 2-0 win over the Henderson Eels. The outcome was largely influenced by two crucial goals scored in the second half of the match.

In the 50th minute, Tigi Molea, one of the key players for the Warriors, found the back of the net, breaking the deadlock and giving his team the lead. The goal injected renewed energy and confidence into the Warriors’ lineup. Building on this momentum, Milton Taolo, a recent signing from Isabel United, made an immediate impact by scoring another goal just six minutes later, in the 56th minute. These two goals proved to be decisive in securing the victory for Solomon Warriors.

Solomon Warriors line-up – SW Media

The win over the strong team of Henderson Eels marked a successful return for the Warriors in the Telekom S-League. It demonstrated their ability to compete at a high level despite their focus on the regional tournament, the OFC Champions League. The victory not only boosted the team’s morale but also showcased their determination to defend their Telekom S-League title.

Although the Warriors still had two matches left to play in order to catch up with the other teams in the league, their primary focus had been on the regional tournament. Now, with a strong performance and an important win under their belt, the Warriors could shift their attention back to the domestic league with renewed confidence.

Solomon Islands’ star Raphael Lea’i started in the final game of the season for Velež Mostar

In the final match of the season for 19-year-old Solomon Islands’ star Raphael Lea’i in the Bosnian and Herzegovina club Velež Mostar against HŠK Posušje, the stakes were high on the final matchday of the m:tel Premier League, the national league of Bosnia. Lea’i, earning his third start of the season, was eager to make a significant contribution to his team’s performance. The match took place away from home, adding an extra layer of challenge for Velež.

The game kicked off with Velež displaying their attacking prowess early on. Just five minutes into the match, Nemanja Anđušić seized an opportunity and unleashed a powerful shot, finding the back of the net. The goal sent ripples of excitement through the Velež supporters, who had traveled to cheer their team on.

However, Posušje, aware of the importance of the match, responded swiftly. In the 18th minute, Tomislav Dadić demonstrated his goal-scoring ability by capitalizing on a chance and equalizing for his team. The match intensified as both sides pushed for an advantage, knowing that their final league position was at stake.

Raphael Lea’i, with his youthful energy and technical skill, played a crucial role for Velež in the first hour of the match. As a starter once again, he showcased his ability to create opportunities and inject pace into his team’s attacks. His presence on the field was felt by the opposition defenders, who had to remain alert to contain his threat until the 60th mintue when the Solomon Islander was subbed off.

Raphael Lea’i – Anadolja

The match remained deadlocked as the clock ticked away. Both teams fought fiercely, knowing that every play could be the difference between victory and defeat. Velež’s defense held firm, denying Posušje any further goals, while their own attacking players continued to search for a breakthrough.

Unfortunately for Velež, fate dealt them a cruel blow in stoppage time. A contentious decision by the referee awarded Posušje a penalty kick. With the pressure mounting, Gabrijel Boban stepped up to the spot and confidently converted, giving his team the crucial lead.

As the final whistle blew, Velež had fallen to a narrow defeat in a hard-fought battle. Despite the loss, they could take solace in their overall performance throughout the season. Finishing in sixth place in the m:tel Premier League was a respectable achievement after a hard start of the season, and their run to the runners-up position in the Bosnian Cup added further validation to their campaign.

For Raphael Lea’i, this season in Bosnia and Herzegovina had provided valuable experience and exposure. As a young talent, his performances in the league had showcased his potential and attracted attention from fans and scouts alike. While the final match might not have ended as desired, Lea’i’s journey in Velež Mostar had undoubtedly contributed to his growth as a footballer.

As the season came to a close, Velež and Raphael Lea’i could reflect on their accomplishments and set their sights on future success as he has one more year contract with the Bosnian side. With determination and perseverance, both the team and the young star from the Solomon Islands could strive for greater achievements in the seasons to come.

Auckland City surpass Suva in extra time to celebrate one more OFC Champions League title

In a thrilling grand final match of the OFC Champions League, held on Saturday, 27th May at Port Vila’s Freshwater Stadium, Auckland City emerged victorious with a 4-2 win over Suva. The New Zealand club secured their 11th title in the tournament and successfully defended their previous year’s triumph, showcasing their dominance in Oceania football.

Auckland City took the lead in the first half, capitalizing on a penalty opportunity awarded when Nathan Lobo was fouled by Suva’s Ravnesh Karan Singh. The Papua New Guinea referee, David Yareboinen, made the decision, and Angus Kilkolly confidently converted the penalty, putting Auckland City in front.

As the first half progressed, Auckland City extended their lead through a surprising turn of events. A clearance from goalkeeper Conor Tracey unintentionally turned into an assist, finding the feet of the super-sub Ryan de Vries, who struck a magnificent goal to double Auckland City’s advantage before halftime.

Auckland City players celebrate – OFC Media

After the break, Suva emerged with determination to mount a comeback. Their efforts were aided when Gerrard Garriga of Auckland City was sent off after a brawl near the throw-in line, receiving his second yellow card. Capitalizing on the numerical advantage, Suva managed to pull one back through Alex Saniel‘s headed goal, reducing the deficit.

Suva’s pursuit of an equalizer intensified, and their hard work paid off in the 84th minute. Marlon Tahioa, an international player from the Solomon Islands, found the back of the net with a long-range strike that took a deflection, leveling the game and sending it into extra time.

The tension continued to rise as the match entered extra time. Azariah Soromon, the Vanuatu international, received his second yellow card, reducing Suva to ten men. Both teams fought fiercely for the winning goal, but it was Auckland City who broke the deadlock in the final 15 minutes of extra time.

Liam Gillion delivered a fantastic pass, finding Auckland City’s captain, Cam Howieson, inside the penalty box. Howieson demonstrated his sharp finishing skills and put his team ahead with a clinical strike. Suva pushed forward desperately in search of an equalizer but faced strong resistance from Auckland City’s goalkeeper, Conor Tracey, who denied their efforts.

In the dying minutes of the match, Cam Howieson once again played a pivotal role. He delivered a superb assist over the defense, finding Ryan de Vries in a one-on-one situation with Suva’s goalkeeper, Akuila Mateisuva. De Vries calmly scored his second goal of the match, sealing the victory and the title for Auckland City.

Suva displayed immense bravery and made it extremely challenging for the defending champions throughout the game. However, Auckland City’s experience and class ultimately prevailed, earning them the well-deserved victory. With this triumph, Auckland City secured qualification for another appearance in the FIFA Club World Cup, which will be held later this year, marking the last edition under the current format before the 2025 tournament.

Solomon Islands’ Kurukuru defeated in second friendly match in Vietnam’s tour

In the second friendly match of their Asian Tour, the Vietnamese futsal team secured a resounding 5-0 victory over the Solomon Islands’ Kurukuru. This triumph came after Solomon Islands suffered another 5-0 loss in their first encounter with the local national team. However, the outcome of these friendly matches was not the primary objective for either team. Instead, the focus was on testing personnel and refining gameplay in preparation for upcoming official tournaments.

Right from the start, the Vietnamese futsal team displayed dominance, swiftly scoring two goals in the first half. The players responsible for finding the back of the net were Tu Minh Quang and Nguyen Thinh Phat. The team continued their relentless performance in the second half, maintaining control over the game.

In the 25th minute of the second half, Solomon Islands’ Junior Mana committed a handball offense in the penalty area, leading to a penalty for the Vietnamese team. Nguyen Minh Tri confidently converted the penalty, extending their lead to 3-0. The Vietnamese futsal team exhibited skill and precision throughout the match, with Tri’s goal highlighting their offensive prowess.

Vietnamense and Solomon Islanders battle for possesion

As the game progressed, Solomon Islands’ team fouls mounted, resulting in a 10-meter penalty awarded to Vietnam in the 35th minute. Van Tuan expertly executed the shot, securing a comfortable 4-0 lead for the home team. Just minutes later, Minh Tri completed a brace by dribbling the ball from the right side to the middle and unleashing a powerful finish.

In the remaining minutes, Solomon Islands attempted a power-play strategy, removing their goalkeeper in favor of an extra outfield player. Despite their efforts, they failed to find the back of the net, ultimately succumbing to a 0-5 defeat. For Solomon Islands, this match served as valuable preparation for the upcoming OFC Futsal Nations Cup, which will take place later in the year. The team hopes to secure a spot in the FIFA Futsal World Cup, which would mark their fifth consecutive participation in the prestigious tournament.

Following the conclusion of the international friendly matches in Vietnam, Solomon Islands will return to Honiara and continue their training under the coach Damon Shaw to fine-tune their skills and tactics for the upcoming tournaments. Both teams recognize the importance of these friendly matches in providing essential tests and preparations ahead of their respective competitions.

U-20 World Cup: Argentina puts five past New Zealand as Junior All Whites still can proceed to knockout stage

In a one-sided encounter at the U-20 World Cup, New Zealand suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of powerhouse Argentina in their final pool game. The Argentinians, who were hosting the tournament, proved to be too strong for the Junior All Whites, who decided to rest some of their key players, including Jay Herdman, who was only introduced in the second half.

Argentina, buoyed by their previous two victories, showed no mercy to the less technical New Zealand side and quickly established their dominance. They took a commanding 3-0 lead by halftime, leaving the Kiwis with a mountain to climb.

The scoring started on the 14th minute when Ignacio Maestro Puch found the back of the net with a powerful header, capitalizing on a well-executed corner play. Just three minutes later, New Zealand gifted Argentina a goal as they lost possession in their defensive end, allowing Gino Infantino to score with a well-placed shot past goalkeeper Kees Sims.

On the 35th minute mark, Luka Romero, a highly talented young player from Lazio, produced a goal-of-the-tournament contender. He showcased his skill by recovering the ball in the center circle, dribbling past three New Zealand players, and finishing from long-range into the top corner, leaving the goalkeeper helpless.

Romero (center) celebrates his goal – Photosport

In the second half, Argentina continued their dominance and quickly extended their lead. A handball in the penalty box by Aaryan Raj led to a penalty kick, which Brian Aguirre confidently converted. With a 4-0 advantage, Argentina remained relentless and added a fifth goal in the 86th minute through a well-placed header by strong striker Alejo Veliz.

The defeat was a humbling experience for New Zealand, who failed to muster a single shot on Argentina’s goal throughout the entire match. Despite the heavy loss, the Junior All Whites still had a reasonable chance to qualify as the best third-placed side, as they ended their campaign in the group stage with four points. They would have to wait for the completion of the remaining group matches to determine their fate.

In the U-20 World Cup, the best four third-placed teams from the six groups would proceed to the Round of 16. Although the defeat against Argentina was a setback, New Zealand hoped that their overall performance in the tournament would be enough to secure their progression to the next stage.