Doing the family name proud

Paul Gope-Fenepej celebrates one of his goals against Papua New Guinea. Image: OFC via Phototek

The face that corresponds with the name Gope-Fenepej in the New Caledonia U-17 squad might be a new one but the style of football and ability to hit the target when required are recognisable traits.

Paul Gope-Fenepej’s debut for New Caledonia against Papua New Guinea in the opening match of the OFC U-17 Championship in Tahiti provided a chance for the 16-year-old to follow closely in the footsteps of older brothers, senior international Georges and former FC Nantes defender John.

Georges arrived on the international scene with a bang, proving a crucial cog for the New Caledonians at the 2011 Pacific Games where he scored seven goals, the 2012 OFC Nations Cup and the Stage 3 World Cup Qualifiers which followed.

He has been plying his trade in France enjoying a season in Ligue 1 with Troyes before eventually finding a home with Amiens, who he helped earn promotion to Ligue 2 for the 2016-17 season.

John didn’t make any appearances for Nantes but did turn out for Bolton Wanderers under Sam Allerdyce during a loan spell.

With such pedigree in the family already, you could expect young Paul to be feeling the pressure but he’s happy to be carving out his own path.

“It is very special for me to represent my family name on the regional stage,” he said.

“We are a family of footballers and it is a great honour to be following the path they set down and making my family proud.”

He’s particularly pleased to be on a similar path to what Georges was at his age.

“Georges is my big brother. I’m very honoured to be following in his footsteps and playing for New Caledonia,” he said.

“I also want to become a professional just like him.”

Although he didn’t get a message wishing him good luck before the tournament began, Gope-Fenepej knows his brother will be thinking of him and the national team as they hope to make history for their country.

“We don’t talk a whole lot because he’s based in France.

“But he will be proud of me, that’s for sure. And I’m proud of him too for everything he’s done in his career to put New Caledonia football on the map.”

Gope-Fenepej’s debut on Saturday was better than he could have dreamed, netting a brace and giving his side a relatively comfortable lead.

“Pulling on the shirt for my country is something special, and to score at the same time is something else,” he enthused.

When Papua New Guinea pulled themselves back in line, Gope-Fenepej said he had no doubts about his side’s ability to pull together and claim the three points.

“I definitely thought we could do it,” he said.

“They scored to equalise yes, but a match is played out over 90 minutes and we play right until the end.

“The entire team said we would do what we can to win, we have to play until the final whistle and do everything possible to get the victory.”

New Caledonia resume their OFC U-17 Championship campaign on 14 February against hosts Tahiti in the Francophone Derby at Mahina Stadium.

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