OFC title a huge honour for Kai

Recently-named 2011 OFC Player of the Year Bertrand Kai says he was shocked to receive the award and is immensely proud to have been singled out as the region's best player over that 12-month period.


Bertrand Kai celebrates one of his goals at the OFC Nations Cup.
Photo: OFC via Phototek

The New Caledonia striker beat off the challenges of a raft of Oceania's finest - including the likes of New Zealand stars Winston Reid, Shane Smeltz and Chris Wood - and became the first Pacific Islands player to earn the accolode since Tahiti’s Marama Vahirua in 2005.

The only other New Caledonian to win the award is former France international and World Cup winner Christian Karembeu, who picked it up in both 1995 and 1998.

"To be honest, I couldn't believe it, it was a real surprise when it was announced," Kai says.

"It was only afterwards that I realised what a honour it is to have been elected ahead of professional players from New Zealand. And I am very proud to have followed in the footsteps of Christian Karembeu."

Kai, 29, broke the Kiwi stranglehold on the award thanks largely to an outstanding showing at the XIV Pacific Games, held in his home country during August and September.

The sharp-shooter put in a series of inspired performances to win the tournament's Golden Boot with 10 strikes and help New Caledonia all the way to gold on their own soil.

"I was proud to have finished top scorer but that didn't change anything about my attitude. My job on the field is to score goals and without the good work of my team mates I couldn't have done so," he says.

"Wearing the jersey of my country is a big achievement for me and to win the gold medal in front of our supporters was amazing, it was a great joy."

Kai was also a key figure domestically for his Hienghene Sport club and is sure to play an important role as New Caledonia enter the third stage of Oceania qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazilâ„¢ later this year.

While his efforts at last month's OFC Nations Cup - which doubled as the second stage of World Cup qualififers - could not be considered in the 2011 OFC Player of the Year voting process, he continued his good run of form, scoring four times as New Caledonia finished runners-up to fellow francophones Tahiti.

"It would have been great to come back to New Caledonia with the Nations Cup, that is my one regret," he says.

"But to be awarded this trophy is also good for New Caledonia football because it shows we have talented players. I would like to thank the football family in my country because without them I could not have reached this level."

Les Cagous will meet Nations Cup champions Tahiti, New Zealand and Solomon Islands in the third stage of World Cup qualifying and Kai believes his side are well in the running to keep their Brazil 2014 dreams alive.

"Of course I think we have a chance," he says.

"It will be a different competition to the Nations Cup as we must play everyone home and away but we will do our best to honour our country."



Updated On Monday, July 30, 2012