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The rise of the game in New Caledonia

New Caledonian football has made huge strides in the past few years as they have become a major force in our region both on and off the field.

Whether performing at elite and youth level, in the women’s game, futsal, beach soccer or hosting major tournaments, the francophone Pacific nation has set high standards to aspire to.

Despite the country’s love of the game and rich football history stretching back to the creation of the New Caledonia league in 1928, New Caledonia only became a member of FIFA in 2004.

In 2012, New Caledonia were a whisker away from qualifying for their maiden FIFA tournament.

Following their heroics against tournament favourites New Zealand in the semi-final of the OFC Nations Cup in Honiara, Les Cagous just missed out on the continental crown and a spot at 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, losing 1-0 to their francophone rivals Tahiti in the title decider.

But the newest FIFA member from the world’s youngest confederation didn’t have to wait too long to make its debut on the global stage.

It was the country’s youngest national team that first earned the right to fly Oceania’s flag at a major international tournament, joining New Zealand as one of two OFC representatives at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.

Two years later, football in New Caledonia celebrated another major milestone thanks to 2019 OFC Champions League winners Hienghéne Sport, who became the first senior side from the country to qualify for a FIFA tournament and the first non-New Zealand OFC side at the FIFA Club World Cup since Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United in 2010.

The final in Noumea’s Stade Numa-Daly was an historic occasion with two New Caledonian sides competing for the top prize in Oceania’s premier club football competition.

And the match-winner in the decider against compatriots Magenta was certainly worthy of its history-making status with substitute Amy Antoine Roine firing home from inside his own half to secure his side’s ticket to Qatar.

Before the FIFA Club World Cup, Hienghéne Sport coach Felix Tagawa said his team’s debut at the tournament would be a momentous occasion.

“It represents many different things. The human valour of players from the Pacific, amateurs, who will touch into the professional world. It’s grandiose. We need the valour to be at its highest, and to be at the highest, we need to do the work,” he explained.

New Caledonia have also made major improvements in the women’s game recently.

After hosting the highly successful OFC Women’s Nations Cup in 2018 where the team finished fourth, New Caledonia grabbed silver at the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship a year later.

New Caledonia’s breakthrough final appearance is noteworthy considering it was the first time that all 11 Oceania nations participated at a women’s tournament on the continental stage.

While the dominance of the highly-fancied New Zealand side was clear, New Caledonia earned plenty of praise and respect by competing strongly against the champions in the final.

Futsal is also well established in New Caledonia, the national futsal league – Super Ligue – is the longest running futsal league in our region with a highly competitive home-and-away season.

Les Cagous showed their credentials by finishing runners-up behind guest nation Malaysia at the OFC Futsal Nations Cup in New Caledonia in 2014.

In 2019, it was again New Caledonia’s turn to host a major futsal tournament and the local organisers put on a spectacular event at the Arène du Sud in Paita.

In the most competitive OFC Futsal Nations Cup to date, the hosts narrowly missed out on the bronze medal following a penalty shoot-out defeat to Tahiti.

But a few weeks later Noumea-based club AS PTT showcased the quality of the Pacific region’s most established futsal league by finishing second at the inaugural OFC Futsal Champions League tournament in Auckland, following a thrilling final against Solomon Islands’ Kooline FC.

Beach soccer also plays a big part in New Caledonia’s football landscape with Les Cagous making their second appearance at the OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup in Tahiti last year.

In 2013, they finished second on home sand and they also grabbed a bronze medal at the 2019 edition of the tournament following a dramatic 8-7 extra time win over Melanesian rivals Vanuatu in the third-place playoff in French Polynesia.

In all formats of the beautiful game, New Caledonia has been a leading nation in our region and the future is looking even brighter for this francophone country with a proud and long football history.

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