Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining. For Vanuatu, their tilt at 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying ended abruptly with elimination after just three matches in June’s Oceania Round Two qualifiers. Yet despite this disappointment, Vanuatu can take some level of solace from their Solomon Islands adventure with their young team gaining invaluable experience, while the nation also made a surge up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking after a period of relative inactivity.
The most recent edition of the Ranking saw the Melanesians surge 12 spots to sit at 156 in the global listing. Despite the rise, it is still someway short of their highest-ever position of 131, achieved in October 2007. Despite their Brazil 2014 hopes coming to an end, Vanuatu sits fifth amongst Oceania nations, ahead of Round Three qualifiers, Solomon Islands
Despite a history of erratic results Vanuatu’s elimination came as a surprise to many, with the nation enjoying numerous highs over the past decade in what was a period of significant growth. The nation has only been affiliated to FIFA since 1988, playing its first FIFA World Cup qualifiers in 1992.
For many global football fans, Vanuatu came to prominence in 2004 by defeating New Zealand 4-2 with a stunning performance of athletic and skilful football. The result ultimately cost the All Whites their Germany 2006 ambitions, while for Vanuatu it was to prove a false dawn. Despite the breakthrough result it was to be Vanuatu’s only win in their five Oceania qualifiers.
Four years on, Vanuatu improved to the point where they advanced to the four-nation final stage of Oceania qualifying. In the process, they saw off the richly talented Solomon Islands, finalists in the 2004 OFC Nations Cup. Their status amongst Oceania’s top echelon seemed assured.
Despite Vanuatu’s continental credentials it was perhaps unsurprising that Percy Avock’s side fell short in their Brazil 2014 quest. Entering the opening match in the Solomons, the side had not taken the field once during this calendar year, which contrasted with numerous outings during 2011, including a strong showing at the Pacific Games. With modest preparations, Vanuatu suffered heavy defeats against New Caledonia and Tahiti, with the Polynesian pair both going on to reach the final.
With the stars of previous campaigns off the scene, Vanuatu fielded a youthful line-up for their Brazil 2014 qualifiers, and around half the squad featured in the U-23 team that took part in Men’s Olympic Football Tournament qualifiers earlier this year. At just 17, attacking midfielder Jean Kaltack was a mainstay of the team, such was the inexperienced nature of Vanuatu’s class of 2012.
Nevertheless, the experience gained by Avock’s young charges is sure to stand Vanuatu in good stead for their future campaigns. “Our preparation for the tournament was too short and we have a lot of young players who are still learning,” Avock said after their elimination from Brazil 2014 qualifying. “We will come back much stronger in four years.”