As Vanuatu celebrates 40 years of independence, one of their crowning moments in international football remains their victory in the 1990 Melanesia Cup.
The now-defunct tournament was contested seven times between 1988 and 2000, serving as a qualifying event for the OFC Nations Cup.
Fiji were the team to beat as evidenced by their five victories but in New Caledonia in 1990 Vanuatu stood tall.
Coached by Englishman Terry O’Donnell, they were a squad with a unique team spirit that saw them pull together to fight for each other on the pitch.
Captain John Mark Bell told Vanuatu Football Federation Media this week about what it meant to him to be part of that winning team.
“Today, I am proud to say I’ve captained a team to victory,” he said.
“Our team was very solid. We hung out together, we ate together and we socialised. Anyone who had personal problems, we supported each other.”
Bell said that socialising included the odd bowl of kava and it certainly worked for the team who went through the tournament unbeaten.
The 1990 Melanesia Cup did not have a final and was contested under a round-robin format.
Vanuatu opened with a 1-0 win over hosts New Caledonia before being held to a 1-1 draw with the Solomon Islands. They edged Papua New Guinea 1-0 in their third match before securing the title courtesy of a 1-1 draw with Fiji in their final outing.
“We played as a team and the individual commitment combined as a team of 11 players and we managed to win something,” Bell said.
“It is a milestone as we celebrate 40 years of independence.”
Bell’s team were immortalised on a stamp following the win, while he also had a stamp dedicated to himself.
Bell said the other major international achievement in Vanuatu football in the past 40 years was their national U-20 men’s team qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2017.
Vanuatu officially marked their 40 years of independence on July 31 and FIFA President Gianni Infantino sent a letter to OFC President Lambert Maltock, who is from Vanuatu, to express his congratulations.
“On this very special day celebrating the 40th Independence Anniversary of the Republic of Vanuatu, it is my great pleasure to convey to you, to the Vanuatu Football Federation, to the government and the people of Vanuatu our greetings and congratulations,” Infantino wrote.
“May this special day and the celebrations be filled with happiness and joy, and bring you all unforgettable memories, unique moments, continued success and, most importantly, good health.”