Softly spoken, shy, uncertain, Vanuatu’s U12 football team didn’t quite know what to make of the all the media attention at the 2007 Danone Nations Cup in Lyon, France, yesterday.
But they had every reason to celebrate after their eye-opening journey to Lyon finished on a high – in the company of Zinedine Zidane.
Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) U-12 Festival of Football champions, Vanuatu, were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Ireland in their semi-final playoff before triumphing 1-0 over Poland in the playoff for
19th/20th in the 40 team field.
Coach Philemon John said the achievements on the pitch far exceeded expectations but quickly added that the cultural activities off the pitch at the Stade de Gerland had provided a valuable
inspiration to his young team during their travels.
“There was a crowd of 20,000 there at the closing ceremony and the kids were obviously very impressed,” said OFC Liaison Officer Beatrice Tchen Pan, “Zinedine Zidane made an appearance in the
dressing room just prior to the Ireland game and the look on the teams’ faces was one of wonder and awe.”
Zidane has been the patron of the Danone Nations Cup since 2003.
Bonds of friendship were made by all the team members and at the Match Day 3 Kids Party the Vanuatu team partied long into the evening…leaving the tired coaching team exhuasted from their
“The coaches wanted to leave because the energy levels were sapped a bit, but with this occasion being such a rare experience for the team we decided to stay on another hour or so to allow them to
form strong friendships and bonds with their new friends from all over the world,” Tchen Pan said.
The Danone Nations Cup Final was played between South Africa and France was an exciting affair with the 20,000 strong crowd entertained from start to finish. The host nation put up a gallant effort
but they could not prevent South Africa from winning 3-0.
OFC General Secretary Tai Nicholas was delighted with the efforts of Vanuatu and the team officials in putting on a strong showing both on the off the pitch.
“This is such a valuable experience for youngsters from the OFC region and teaches them not only about the game on the pitch, but the unifying power of the game off the pitch.
The Vanuatu team will remember their journey to Papua New Guinea and now France for the rest of their lives and I hope will help build a platform for greater cultural understanding and, perhaps, a
bright future for Vanuatu football as a whole,” Nicholas said.
The team returns to Vanuatu on Wednesday.