Under the tutelage of French coach Didier Chambaron, New Caledonia have gone ten official games without defeat, an enviable record in anyone's language.
Thanks to the devaluation of matches from previous years, the Caledonians have rocketed to 95th place on the September FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, their highest-ever position. This jump should provide Chambaron's team with a significant confidence boost prior to their crucial encounter with New Zealand, the Oceania Zone leaders in qualifying to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, in Noumea on Saturday.
", the results have exceeded our expectations and to keep our undefeated record, which has stretched over ten matches...that's our next challenge," a proud Chambaron told FIFA.com.
We didn't get here by chance. The players have really progressed in these recent months
New Caledonia's recent success has certainly earned them respect throughout the region, but Chambaron still feels their achievement has not been given sufficient recognition. "I don't think the results we've achieved have been given the acknowledgement they deserve up to now, and that's a pity," he commented.
Changing the landscape
Chambaron sees his role as improving the level of football not only in New Caledonia, but in Oceania as a whole. "I've been in New Caledonia now for two and a half years, and I hope that I will be able to make my own small contribution to the development of football in Oceania as a whole. In any case, I'm all ready to!"
The Frenchman is also confident that the off-field initiatives currently in place will ensure a genuine change in the footballing landscape of the region. "The [Oceania Football Confederation] president Reynald Temarii has put in place a whole series of reforms that will improve the status of football both within and outside Oceania," he said. "And the projects are not just about the elite players, they concern the education of the youth and the struggle against poverty."
One of these initiatives has been the creation of a new technical centre in Paita, near Noumea, financed by FIFA's Goal Programme and opened in May this year. New Caledonia, only affiliated with FIFA since 2004 and with only 8,552 registered players, now has a world-class training facility on its doorstep.
Project New Zealand
Next on the agenda for New Caledonia? This week's matches against New Zealand, of course. "We have plenty of respect for the New Zealanders, who are all reaching a higher level," said Chambaron.
Not that he wants to single out any of the New Zealand players for special attention. "I'm more wary of the team spirit that [New Zealand coach] Ricki Herbert has created than any one player in particular."
New Zealand, for their part, will need to be wary of New Caledonia's star players, such as midfield schemer Pierre Wajoka and striker Michel Hmae. But they will also be aware that they are facing an opponent ranked, for the very first time, in the world's top 100.