Thursday, March 21, 2013

Waning Seconds: Oceania

As we enter the middle months of 2013, World Cup Qualifying is approaching its final throes. While we normally recount the results, honoring winners and losers after they matches have all gone final: we're happy to talk a little about the possibilities that are still afoot as individual confederations wrap up their qualifying campaigns.

Most will finish sometime in September or October, but already tiny little Oceania is approaching its' climactic weekend of matches. Where three teams will go home and the other...will also go home...until November when they have to go play someone in North/Central America.

There's really only one match up that will determine the victor of Oceania and that's the plucky New Zealand Kiwis (they who stymied the divas of Italy back in South Africa). However, in OFC qualifying New Zealand is practically a whale, but they're a whale being hunted by the Kagus of New Caledonia. (Okay, not really hunted...but the Kagu is almost flightless and the Kiwi is totally flightless so that's one feather in the New Caledonia to speak)
Bird (Kagu) with pale grey plumage (lighter on underside), straight red bill and red legs
BEHOLD THE BATTLE OF THE BIRDS! (Kiwi on the left; Kagu on the right)

It's an uphill battle for New Caledonia, they trail the Kiwis by 3 points and a goal. So their best hope is to beat the Kiwis on Friday (ideally by more than a single goal) and then hope they earn an equal or better result in the Monday matches [the Kagus play cellar dwellers Tahiti, while the Kiwis face the Solomon Islands].

Gope-Fenepej puts Kanaks on the attack
Georges Gope-Fenepej
Truth be told, New Caledonia doesn't have a whole lot of experience at this level of competition. The whiff of international prominence must be a heady aroma, and they have only 3 World Cups of experience to go off of. Still there is hope, including rising Caledonian star: Georges Gope-Fenepej (whose last name is real and not the result of accidentally smashing my hand against the keyboard). Gope-Fenepej, recently acquired by Ligue 1 debutante Troyes, has 14 goals in 15 matches that set him apart as a special player on the pitch.

Smeltz like teen spirit
Meanwhile, New Zealand is still basking in the glory of being the big kid on the playground of the South Pacific. A stirring showing in South Africa is a big help, but as the roster of their golden generation ages (leaders Shane Smeltz and Chris Killen are each 31), the Kiwis time at the top might be running out. And yet, there's no one who has come close to touching them in qualifying to this point (they easily dispatched New Caledonia 2-0 in their last meeting back in September. And with hefty wins against Tahiti and the Solomon Islands already in the bag, regardless of Friday's outcome, the qualifiers from 2010 will likely feel confident heading into their final matches again.

We'll have to wait until the weekend to see who walks away from the Oceanic qualifying to fight on (several months and millions of miles away). But whoever it is there will be a grateful endangered bird out there somewhere...

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