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Team knuckles down in Auckland

Coach Mark Bourdoulous and his men have holed themselves up at the Charles J. Dempsey Football Academy, a facility based at the OFC headquarters at Mt Smart Stadium.
The purpose of the trip is to hone their skills with daily training sessions and get some much-needed match experience under their belts. The side faced North Shore team East Coast Bays, who have just been crowned Northern Premier League champions, at North Harbour Stadium on Tuesday night and posted a pleasing 1-0 win.
They faced an even sterner test of their abilities when they met a trialist squad from national league club Waitakere United at the same venue on Thursday. Waitakere coach Neil Emblen fielded an experimental side that included a batch of promising youngsters, as well as the experienced heads of captain Jake Butler and former English professional Martin Bullock.
They ran out 2-0 winners but Bourdoulous was pleased to face such a strong side – seeing how his players fare against high quality opposition is exactly what he wants.
“The main objective of being here is to play some matches against teams we wouldn’t normally play,” he says. “The problem for me in selecting the team is that we have not had many games. And the players in the local championship play the same teams all the time so they need some different opposition.”
The 35-year-old took on the job in May and is charged with preparing the squad for the Overseas Cup, which will take place in Paris from September 22 to October 3.
It is a biennial competition put in place for the national teams of French overseas territories and former territories to play against each other.
New Caledonia have been drawn in group one and will meet Guadeloupe, Martinique and Tahiti, while group two is made up of French Guiana, Mayotte, Reunion and Saint Pierre et Miquelon.
Bourdoulous has brought 20 players to Auckland and must cut this figure down to 18 by the end of the week. He had a choice between taking the side to New Zealand or Australia but chose the OFC headquarters because of the accomodation facilities it offers and the appropriate climate.
“The weather was important for me because in September in France it will be about the same as it is here now, rainy and cold. Our players have also never played on grass like this, the fields back home are very hard and dry. They never play with boots with proper studs, only moulded ones.”
New Caledonia have not had any matches since June, when they played two friendlies against A-League side Gold Coast United in Noumea.
The Australian professionals took their opponents too lightly in the first match and paid for their lack of intensity with a 3-2 loss. The second game proved much harder for New Caledonia but they still pushed their more illustrious opponents all the way, settling for a narrow 1-0 defeat.
Bourdoulous was delighted with how his players handled the step up in quality.
“I was surprised because the local championship is not very good,” he says. “But when they play in the O-League or against good teams, the players seem to have the ability to increase their level.”
There are several things he is looking to work on, particularly concentration and defensive discipline.
“The biggest problem for our players is concentration. They are not able to play from the first minute to the end of the match,” Bourdoulous says.
“Another negative point is the defence, they don’t like to defend. They all want to get forward and score.”
But the coach feels his players also have a lot of positive attributes and is aiming to make the most of these.
“They are very instinctive in the offensive side of the game. They are able to do things sometimes that are amazing.
“The players in France are not able to do that because they are too organised and coached. They are told you must do this and that and there is only one way to do it.
“I think it is good that our players are not like that and I don’t want to change this. I would just like to integrate these qualities into a more organised system.”
New Caledonia have no other games pencilled in before the Overseas Cup and Bourdoulous says they are looking no further ahead than their first match of the tournament.
“The first game is the most important because if you win it makes it more easy. It is very hard to come back if you lose,” he says.

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