Vanuatu progressed to the OFC Nations Cup - and ensured their dream of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ stayed alive - by upsetting Solomon Islands 2-0 at Toleafoa J.S.Blatter Football Field in the third-place match at the XIII South Pacific Games Samoa 2007. Striker Suele Soromon and midfield starlet Francois Sakama were both on target during the victory as coach Robert Calvo delivered Vanuatu's most significant result since a memorable 4-2 win over New Zealand nearly three years ago.
Veteran goalkeeper David Chilia is excited about the prospect of meeting New Zealand again and admitted he had considered retirement if Vanuatu were eliminated from Samoa 2007. Understandably, Chilia changed his tune once the bronze medal dangled from his neck.
"No, I won't retire, I am excited now," Chilia said immediately after the victory over Solomon Islands. "We knew we could beat Solomon Islands if everything in our team went right on the day. I'm very proud of this achievement."
Vanuatu football has received a massive boost in recent times with club champions Tafea FC qualifying for the OFC O-League thanks to winning the preliminary competition in New Caledonia earlier this year. Vanuatu's U-12s also qualified for the 2007 Danone Nations Cup as OFC U-12 Festival of Football champions after a heartwarming performance in Papua New Guinea in April.
Vanuatu's chances of progressing will depend on whether or not they can have their stadium ready in time for their November kick-off, with the current pitch and seating in desperate need of work.
New Caledonia sealed Samoa 2007 gold by playing a fast, counter-attacking game hatched by young French coach Didier Chambaron. Influential midfield playmaker Pierre Wajoka was a crucial part of New Caledonia's triumph with outstanding performances against Fiji and Solomon Islands helping guide the team to a deserved final appearance.
"We have a team that depends upon the strength of the group, not individuals. If I play well, this is only because everybody else in this team is also doing their job and playing well. Without this our team would not be what it is," Wajoka declared prior to the semi-final win over Solomon Islands.
Other stabdout performers for New Caledonia include Marc Ounemoa and Marius Mapou, with the talismanic figure of former AS Pirae midfielder Jose Hmae a constant danger on either flank. Hmae's talents have seen the diminutive player return to New Caledonia to play for AS Mont Dore in the Super League, where he can be closer to the national team.
Coach Didier Chambaron downplays his team's achievements in winning the gold medal. "We have a system the players believe in but we needed to instill a sense of discipline and organisation. Sometimes the mentality is not as strong as it needs to be in our football in this country. The approach is more akin to recreational rather than international or professional football standards which is not good enough to win games," Chambaron said.
Although New Caledonia has recorded creditable performances at international level at the XIII South Pacific Games and the OFC U-20 Men's Championship, their club teams have struggled in the OFC O-League and its preliminary tournaments.
AS Mont Dore were outclassed by Auckland City (4-0 and 2-0) and Waitakere United (6-1 and 3-0) in 2007, while JS Baco, AS Mont Dore's Super League successors, were humbled by Vanuatu club champions Tafea FC (5-0) in Noumea.
Chambaron is adamant that international results will not reflect the paucity of success at club level, but admitted qualification for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa would represent an achievement bordering on the miraculous.