Football in Vanuatu has been on a rollercoaster ride ever since the national team shocked the continent with a 4-2 qualifying victory over regional giants New Zealand in 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ qualifying, but the result was not enough to keep the islanders alive in the increasingly tricky Oceania zone.
While the second qualifying round win over the Kiwis may not have been enough to see Vanuatu into the play-offs, it did prevent their rivals from claiming an accustomed spot in the next round.
In fact, Vanuatu's victory not only opened the door, but in many ways, inspired the upsurge in underdog mentality that saw the Solomon Islands into the home-and-away final with Australia.
Sadly, Vanuatu failed to build on the legacy of that result, losing coach Juan Carlos Buzzetti to Fiji and then underperforming at the OFC U-20 Championship.
Despite this, they have experienced a major turn around in
fortunes and the popularity of football has grown significantly, in
part due to their youngsters winning the OFC U-12 Festival of
Football Port Moresby 2007 and qualifying for the Danone Nations
Cup in France.
Club champions Tafea FC kept up the feel good factor by romping home in the OFC Champions League (O-League) preliminary qualifying competition in New Caledonia. OFC Technical Development guru Jim Selby kept the ball rolling with the launch of the Just Play coaching programme in schools across Vanuatu, and the implementation of a national futsal championship played amongst school children.
With successive runners-up slots at OFC Beach Soccer Championship, Vanuatu have shown that progress in the game has been made. Advancing to the second phase of qualifying for South Africa 2010 is an achievable target, with Vanuatu likely to prove too strong for American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga.