New Caledonia take fantastic memories from maiden WC

AP Photo/Bikas Das

New Caledonia ended their maiden FIFA appearance at any level with a 1-1 draw against Japan in Kolkata on Saturday, with captain Jekob Jeno scoring an 84th-minute equaliser. The result means that New Caledonia finish last in Group E and will not progress to the round of 16. However, they'll take a lot of positives from their maiden appearance at the tournament.

The only journalist travelling with the New Caledonian team in India is Nouvelle-Caledonie 1ère's Martin Charmasson. He has been followed the team for the last four months and was in Australia and New Zealand for their pre-tournament camps and also in Lifou Island for their last friendly before the World Cup.

Charmasson speaks highly of coach Dominque Wacalie's passion for the game, giving a back story to explain why Wacalie is the youngest of the 24 coaches at this World Cup at just 35.

Wacalie was part of the national team which surprised New Zealand in the semi-finals of the 2012 Oceania Nations' Cup to set up a final clash with Tahiti. A win would have been their ticket to the FIFA Confederations Cup, but the game finished 1-0 in Tahiti's favour, and from that day to seeing their nation at their first FIFA event has been an emotional ride for both Wacalie and Charmasson.

Charmasson, who clarifies he is not Caledonian by birth, but has been living in the country for the last 10 years after having worked in Lyon, says he had to convince his employers to let him travel for the World Cup, because "you have 12,000 people playing football in New Caledonia" and "a World Cup can be a once in a lifetime chance for the boys."

It is understood that Wacalie had pulled up his team about the 'lack of fighting spirit', and the 'absence of enough running on the pitch' in the first two games they played. They would set it right on Saturday evening in their last appearance in this World Cup.

This appearance, though, could help improve the standards of football, especially at the grassroots for New Caledonia. "It's not easy when this is your first World Cup expérience. The support staff are building something that can impact these youngsters for the years to come," says Charmasson. "India and New Caledonia have to build not only at the national level, but most of all, in the early categories like U-8, U-10 and U-12. You have to create a football culture and a competition culture, so that when they're U-17 or U-20, they're not surprised by the level, the atmosphere."

As for the emotions from this tournament, especially when goalkeeper Une Kecine effected a save from a penalty, and Sidri Wadenges scored the first goal in FIFA history for New Caledonia, Charmasson has a simple take.

"I was truly happy for the kids and the staff. To score a goal at that stage is huge when you are an amateur. It must be a fantastic memory. It is well deserved for the team who tries to adapt at that level."