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Smith named Oceania's top female footballer

Published: 1:21PM Saturday July 21, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

Football Ferns captain Rebecca Smith has been named 2011 Oceania Football Confederation Women's Player of the Year.

The Germany-based defender wrote herself into the folklore of the women's game in New Zealand at the last year's FIFA Women's World Cup Germany, one of only two Ferns stars to be singled out as an "Outstanding Player" by the FIFA Technical Study Group - the other was fellow OFC nominee Katie Hoyle - and was at the heart of an historic moment, scoring in the 2-2 draw with Mexico as New Zealand earned its first ever point at the event.

Smith (31) also achieved a personal milestone when she played her 50th international - a friendly against Australia last May - and continued to carve out a groundbreaking professional career overseas with Frauen Bundesliga outfit VfL Wolfsburg.

New Caledonia striker Bertrand Kai took away the Oceania men's award, the first Pacific Islands player to earn the male gong since Tahiti's Marama Vahirua in 2005, largely due to an outstanding showing at the XIV Pacific Games, held in his home country during August and September.

The sharp-shooter put in a series of inspired performances to finish as the tournament's Golden Boot winner with 10 strikes and help New Caledonia all the way to gold on their own soil. He was also a key figure domestically for his Hienghene Sport club and is sure to play an important role as Les Cagous enter the third stage of Oceania qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil later this year.

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New Zealand men among the nominees were Auckland City's Danny Koprivcic, and All Whites Wintson Reid (West Ham United), Shane Smeltz (Perth Glory) and Chris Wood (Birmingham City/West Bromwich Albion), while Football Ferns Hoyle, Abby Erceg, Sarah Gregorius, Amber Hearn, Ria Percival and Ali Riley were all in contention for the women's prize.

Voting was open to members of the OFC Executive Committee, as well as presidents, general secretaries, national team coaches and technical directors from each of the 11 member associations within Oceania.

It is the first time either Smith or Kai has received the award - New Zealand pair Ryan Nelsen and Ali Riley were the 2010 winners - and their dual recognition is also a significant moment in that both awards have previously gone to New Zealand players in the three years since a women's category was introduced in 2008.

OFC General Secretary Tai Nicholas says it is important for Oceania's best to be recognised.

"On behalf of OFC, I'd like to congratulate our two winners on their achievements," he says. "We've had arguably a higher calibre of candidates from the Pacific than ever before, so to win the award is a real achievement. Bertrand and Rebecca have stood out amongst a very strong group, and are fully deserving of these accolades."

The OFC Player of the Year Award has been made annually since 1988 with players from Australia and New Zealand dominating the list.

The first recipient was Frank Farina from Australia and other notable winners include New Zealand's Wynton Rufer and Smeltz, and Australia's Harry Kewell, Robbie Slater, Mark Viduka, Mark Bosnich, Tim Cahill and Brett Emerton, and New Caledonia's Christian Karembeu.

In 1999, Rufer was named OFC Player of the Century, while Bosnich was deemed OFC Goalkeeper of the Century.

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