The pressure of qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup may have been lifted with the addition of two berths for Oceania in Korea 2017, but neither New Zealand nor Vanuatu have lost their motivation to be crowned OFC U-20 Champions.
Having qualified for their first ever FIFA tournament, Vanuatu now have their sights set on overcoming the five-time champions and emerging from the OFC U-20 Championship unbeaten.
Their four consecutive victories including the 2-1 victory over Solomon Islands in the semi-final gives them a psychological edge after New Zealand was held to a 0-0 draw by Solomon Islands in their final group match.
However the Kiwis remain the favourites going into the final courtesy of an overall track record in this competition that has seen them snare five regional titles across the course of 21 editions.
Despite the odds, Vanuatu are well and truly focused on the task at hand and intend to give the sell-out crowd at Port Vila Stadium a match to remember.
Technical Advisor Declan Edge said having achieved their first major objective – qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup – the next task at hand is winning the competition.
“It’s a bit like the first match of the World Cup for us, that’s how we’re looking at it,” Edge says.
“I don’t think that having qualified already that the boys have lost any motivation. I’ve spoken to them today about the need to go out and play.
“They all want to be professional football players so they have to know what a professional football does.
“A professional has to play twice a week he wins trophies and then he has to go back to work again the next day. So we’ve told them that, and we’ve also reminded them that all those people have paid money to watch the game.
“They have to be entertained – and that’s the responsibility of Vanuatu and New Zealand – to put on a good show for all the fans.”
Vanuatu might have the home crowd advantage, but New Zealand are experienced at these types of big games and are determined to add a sixth regional title to the trophy cabinet.
“It was a goal of ours to qualify for the World Cup and also to come first in the tournament. We know that it’s half the job done and the pressure of that has been taken away but we want to win this tournament and become the champions of Oceania,” New Zealand coach Darren Bazeley said.
“It’s a big game, a big game for us.”
New Zealand have conceded just twice so far so their defence more than stacks up against some of the region’s most talented attackers. While also showing off their own attacking flair with newcomer Myer Bevan proving a threat along with his teammates Logan Rogerson and Lucas Imrie.
Bazeley said the team has performed outstandingly throughout the competition, dominating the majority of their matches, and now the pressure is on them to prove themselves the best team in Oceania.
“I think it’s massively important for us to prove ourselves as the most dominant side in Oceania and I’ve stressed that to the players.
“You get to these games and it’s all about winning and we do want to be champions.”
But Vanuatu have been equally solid themselves, also conceding just twice in four matches. Lanky defender Jason Thomas has matured into a reliable force with excellent game understanding. Fellow senior player and captain Bong Kalo drives the attack for Vanuatu and is quite masterful from a set piece.
There is no doubt fans are set for an exciting match-up between two sides which are equally motivated to win the regional title for their nation.
New Zealand vs. Vanuatu
Port Vila Stadium
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Saturday 17 September
Kick-off: 14h30 (VUT)
Referee: Kader ZITOUNI (TAH))
Assistant Referee 1: Avinesh NARAYAN (FIJ)
Assistant Referee 2: Folio MOEAKI (TGA)
Fourth Official: Mederic LACOUR (NCL)
Reserve Assistant Referee: John PAREANGA (COK)
Vital Statistics: New Zealand have a win rate of seven from seven against Vanuatu at U-20 level. They have scored 32 goals while conceding just three on their way to achieving that unbeaten record.
The Players: Reese Cox has put in a series of understated performances at the centre of New Zealand’s defence which have helped New Zealand keep their conceded goal tally to just two. Clayton Lewis and Moses Dyer both made strong returns to the middle of the park for the Kiwis defending well while also managing to look very threatening on attack.
Coach Quote: “I’ve watched all of their group games now and I know some of their players and it’s no surprise they’re in the final. They’re the home team so they have that advantage, but they’re also the best team of the islands, they’re consistent and they look the strongest team here so it’s going to be a big challenge.”
New Zealand: 1. Michael WOUD (GK), 2. Jack-Henry SINCLAIR, 3. Sean LIDDICOAT, 5. Hunter ASHWORTH, 6. Luke JOHNSON, 7. Logan ROGERSON, 8. Moses DYER, 9. Myer BEVAN, 10. Clayton LEWIS, 11. Sarpreet SINGH, 12. Cameron BROWN (GK), 13. Charlie THOMAS, 14. Jake PORTER, 15. Lucas IMRIE, 16. Joe BELL, 17. George DEBENHAM, 18. Reese COX
Injured: 4. Nando PIJNAKER
Absent: 19. Joshua DIJKSTRA (GK)
Coach: Darren BAZELEY (NZL)
Vital Statistics: This match marks Vanuatu’s first OFC U-20 Championship final appearance.
The Players: While the experience of Jason Thomas and Bong Kalo will be crucial against New Zealand, a number of younger players have also stepped up during this competition including Ronaldo Wilkins, Tasso Jeffery and Frederick Massing. Keeper Willie Dick has been quite outstanding and will have a key role to play tomorrow.
Coach Quote: “I know a few of these players – the ones that are at Auckland City or Wellington Phoenix – and what they can do but outside of that I don’t know a lot about this New Zealand side. We will concentrate on what we have done well during this tournament which is playing attacking football, we’ll try to attack, score goals and we’ll see what the game of football delivers tomorrow.” – Technical Advisor Declan Edge.
Vanuatu: 1. Andreas DUCH (GK), 2. Joseph IARUEL, 3. Jason THOMAS, 4. Selwyn VATU, 5. Jesse KALOPONG, 6. Claude ARU, 7. Bong KALO, 8. Godine TENENE, 9. Sylvain WORWORBU, 10. Ronaldo WILKINS, 11. Jonathan SPOKEYJACK, 12. Abednigo SAU, 13. Tasso JEFFERY, 14. Timothy BOULET, 15. Gregory PATRICK, 16. Harison MASSING, 17. Jayson TIMATUA, 18. Max UGUNA, 19. Frederick MASSING, 23. Willie DICK (GK)
Coach: Etienne MERMER (VAN)