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Stars lured home for World Cup qualifiers

The action kicks off with the first round of matches on September 7 and a pair of intriguing encounters are in store with OFC Nations Cup champions Tahiti visiting the Solomon Islands and New Zealand travelling to New Caledonia in a repeat of the Nations Cup semi-finals.
The second round takes place just days later on September 11 and brings New Caledonia to Tahiti for a francophone derby while New Zealand plays host to Solomon Islands.
The coaching staff of each side revealed their squads for the first two rounds this week and there are plenty of noteworthy names involved as the region’s most far-flung footballers put their hands up to help their respective countries edge closer to Brazil 2014.
As expected, New Zealand’s All Whites are able to call on the highest contingent of top-class professionals with English Premier League players Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid included alongside fellow England-based stars Tommy Smith, Chris Wood and Tim Payne. The presence of Nelsen and Reid will be a particular boost to Ricki Herbert’s men as both missed the disappointing Nations Cup campaign.
But the All Whites aren’t the only ones able to draw upon talent from foreign shores with each of the other three nations all also including at least one overseas-based professional in their ranks.
New Caledonia’s Les Cagous lead the way with three players who ply their trade in France. Two of that trio, Georges Gope-Fenepej and Wesley Lautoa, are with Ligue 1 sides Troyes and Lorient respectively while Cesar Lolohea is on the books of Ligue 2 club Stade Lavallois.
Winger Gope-Fenepej, who signed for top-flight newcomers Troyes shortly after June’s Nations Cup, is sure to be a key figure throughout Stage 3 and his attacking combinations with 2011 OFC Player of the Year Bertrand Kai and Nations Cup Golden Boot winner Jacques Haeko will cause many problems for Les Cagous’ opponents.
Fellow French territory Tahiti have a similar jewel in the crown in the form of ex-France U-21 international Marama Vahirua. The 32-year-old is a striker of prodigious ability and has made over 320 appearances in Ligue 1 for Nantes, Nice, Lorient and current employers Nancy.
Due to his club commitments, he has never pulled on the shirt of his country but his career at the highest level appears to be winding down – he spent last season on loan at Ligue 2 Monaco – and he is clearly unwilling to spurn the opportunity to take part in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, which Tahiti qualified for by winning the Nations Cup.
While they have no such European stars, the Bonitos of Solomon Islands are certainly not short of ability and are able to include talismen Benjamin Totori and Henry Fa’arodo. After proving himself as one of Oceania’s most accomplished strikers in the national leagues of his homeland and New Zealand, Totori was one of the stars of the Nations Cup and did enough to earn a contract with the Phoenix.
Fa’arodo is also familiar to fans across the Pacific after playing professionally in Australia and was a big part of Team Wellington’s run to the final of New Zealand’s ASB Premiership last season.
Stage 3 consists of a round-robin, home-and-away play-off series based on a league system and the winner will advance to the inter-continental play-off against the fourth-placed CONCACAF nation, scheduled to be held in November 2013, for a berth at Brazil 2014.
For the team lists for round one and two of the Oceanian Zone Stage 3 Qualifiers 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ click here
For the full match schedule click here

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