Vanuatu have produced several impressive victories during their relatively brief FIFA World Cup™ history. Most famously they eliminated New Zealand with a stunning 4-2 scoreline during qualifying for Germany 2006. They continued the role of continental giant-killers on the road to South Africa 2010, ousting Solomon Islands, who themselves were Oceania finalists during the preceding FIFA World Cup cycle.
The nation typically produces athletic and skilled footballers but consistency has invariably been a problem. Their enigmatic results have never better been typified than during the 2006 FIFA World Cup campaign, when a deserved win over New Zealand proved to be their sole victory during the six-nation stage.
Now, after nearly five years of waiting, Vanuatu will have the chance to again set foot on the road to the FIFA World Cup. Vanuatu have been drawn alongside New Caledonia, Tahiti and Round One qualifiers Samoa in the OFC Nations Cup, which commences this Friday in the Solomon Islands. The tournament doubles as FIFA World Cup qualifying, with the semi-finalists to reach the third and final stage of Oceania qualifying, while the victor will represent Oceania at next year’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Vanuatu’s international fixture calendar over the past decade has, like many of the Pacific nations, been littered with yawning gaps between matches. Vanuatu’s follows a particularly curious path, and having not played in the three years following FIFA World Cup qualifiers in 2007, the team then took the field 11 times last year. However, leading into Friday’s opener against New Caledonia, Vanuatu will not have played a full international this year, with a recent outing against the tournament hosts called off due to a run of injuries within the squad.
With such a long period since their last FIFA World Cup qualifiers, it is little surprise that Vanuatu will field a youthful line-up in the Solomons, with over half their squad having featured in this year’s OFC U-23 championships. Just eight players from last year’s Pacific Games squad made the 23-man roster for this week’s tournament. Newly appointed coach Percy Avock says he puts a lot of “trust” in his younger squad members, notably goalkeeper Seilonie Laruel and attacking midfielder Jean Kaltack, both just 17.
“I have an objective which is to be in top four in the tournament and play in the next round of FIFA World Cup qualifying ,” Avock told FIFA.com, before stating his subsequent aim will be to win the tournament and qualify for the FIFA Confederations Cup. “I am very confident that we will make it through to the second round [of Brazil 2014 qualifying].”
Vanuatu named a three-man coaching staff of Avock, William Malas and Kaison Maki in January but stated at the time that a head coach would be appointed closer to the tournament. Avock was subsequently appointed, with French technical advisor Christian Chosson having since arrived to join the team’s coaching staff.
Avock, who coaches New Caledonia’s AS Mont-Dore, says the team’s build-up has been hampered by tight domestic league schedules. Vanuatu spent time together in Port Vila before becoming the first team to arrive in the Solomons last Tuesday, where they have since defeated national league champions Solomon Warriors 4-1 in a spirited warm-up contest.
Many of the players, though short on years at the top level, have enjoyed significant experience over the past two seasons as top Vanuatu club Amicale made their mark in the OFC O-League. The competition was not so kind to Avock, however, as his Mont Dore side finished bottom of the eight-team competition in the recently completed season.
Despite the team being relatively untested at this level Avock remains confident of success. I am sure they will perform well in the Solomon Islands,” he said of his young side. “It's just a matter of preparing well and arriving at the tournament in a positive state of mind."