Gluscevic and the big challenge facing a small island

  • Serbia’s Dejan Gluscevic has been coach of the Vanuatu U-20 team since 24 February 2017 Before becoming a coach, Gluscevic was voted 1995 Player of the Year in Indonesia Gluscevic and Vanuatu will participate in their first FIFA competition at Korea Republic 2017

Take a look at the two photos on the current Vanuatu U-20 coach’s Twitter page and it soon becomes obvious that Dejan Gluscevic is a man who relishes a challenge. One makes him look tiny, standing alone on the pitch inside an enormous stadium, while the other sees him climbing a large stone wall with his bare hands. The former professional clearly loves setting himself tough tasks then, and an enormous one awaits him in May at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017.

Gluscevic and Vanuatu are about to participate in their first-ever FIFA competition. While Vanuatu qualified for the U-20 World Cup over six months ago, Gluscevic has only been in the job since the end of February 2017. The former striker, who turned coach in 2002, told "I think I'm the right person for this job; I know how to adapt and use different training methods according to the needs of a team."

He added: "Given my CV, my background, my various experiences in different parts of the world, and my track record with this age group, I think I can contribute to the success of this country on the international stage." Gluscevic’s career thus far has included major adventures in Canada and Singapore. "I have also had the opportunity to train a large number of players who have participated in the FIFA U-20 World Cup - Canadian players in 2007 and more recently Serbian youngsters, who won the last World Cup in 2015."

We will be making our first appearance in a World Cup. For that reason alone, we must see ourselves as a 'small' team. But in terms of desire, pride and love for the country, Vanuatu is a great nation.

A sizeable goal Competing alongside established nations Germany, Mexico and Venezuela in a high-quality Group B, Vanuatu are very much outsiders to reach the second group stage, where teams of the calibre of France, Argentina or Portugal could lie in wait. But Gluscevic has set a specific target for his young players: "This tournament will be an opportunity to show the whole world what Vanuatu can do on the pitch," he says. "It's about representing both the country and the Oceanian footballing family with pride, and earning the respect of the entire football community."

Great strength Although their 5-0 defeat in the OFC qualifying final against New Zealand was a heavy one, and highlighted some of their limitations, Vanuatu had previously been solid at the back, conceding just two goals in four games at the competition. That solidity is unquestionably his side’s main strength, but coach Gluscevic prefers to point out "the good relationships and united spirit" that drive his young charges on. "The boys grew up together at the Vanuatu Academy Programme. They know each other inside out, and that could well help them,” said the Serbian, who also said: "Our training programme should also improve their overall performance and their reading of the game."

Inspiration from a higher level Island nations such as Iceland at UEFA EURO 2016, Jamaica at the 1998 FIFA World Cup™, Trinidad and Tobago at the 2006 World Cup, and Tahiti at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup have previously been able to mix it with the very best, and Vanuatu can take inspiration from those predecessors as they embark on their own adventure in Korea. "If we look closer to home, what Fiji have been able to achieve over the past three years is also very inspiring," said Gluscevic. "The fact that they qualified for a World Cup, then immediately qualified for the Olympic football tournament, gives hope to a country like Vanuatu, which dreams of such an opportunity."

A huge moment Although the challenge of getting out of the group stage appears colossal for Vanuatu, just qualifying for the tournament is a tremendous feat in itself. The performance triggered an unprecedented surge of enthusiasm across the island, and the nation's 300,000 inhabitants will now be fully behind the squad from 20 May, the date on which Vanuatu kick off their campaign against Mexico in Daejeon.

"The island has been waiting almost 85 years for the opportunity to showcase its talent on the international stage,” said Gluscevic. “I guarantee you that the challenges facing Vanuatu are not the same as those of other countries. Overcoming so many obstacles to qualify for a World Cup is something extraordinary. The people of Vanuatu live and breathe football. The players who achieved the incredible feat of qualifying their country for a World Cup for the first time ever, have gone down in history."