Vanuatu took out the gold in both the men’s and women’s football at the Pacific Mini Games on home soil this month for the first time in the history of the Pacific Games.
The men’s side secured goal after beating Melanesian rivals Solomon Islands 3-2 on the final day of action with a late Bong Kalo goal proving the difference in a very close match.
For the women, it all came down to the final against Fiji where a goal in either half was enough to secure the top prize with a 2-1 victory.
Coming into the final match day, both Solomon Islands and Vanuatu were locked on ten points each with only goal difference separating the two sides on the table.
Striker Kensi Tangis opened the scoring in the 25th minute for the home side at Port Vila Stadium but Solomon Islands struck back just two minutes later when veteran Benji Totori found the back of the net.
Elkington Molivakarua returned the lead to Vanuatu in the 41st minute, but once more Solomon Islands were able to come back within five minutes through another veteran and captain Henry Fa’arodo who converted a penalty just ahead of the break.
When Vanuatu U-20 international Bong Kalo struck in the 67th minute the Bonitos found themselves for the first time without a response, the goal proving the winner and securing the gold medal.
For Solomon Islands it was double disappointment as the loss allowed Fiji to leapfrog them on the table to secure silver following a 4-1 win over New Caledonia, leaving the Bonitos to make do with bronze.
The women’s competition saw Fiji and Vanuatu advance to the final after three match days, including a 0-0 draw on the second day of action between the two sides.
At half-time the equality between the two sides was evident as they remained locked in a scoreless draw which was unable to be broken until the 62nd minute when substitute Leisale Solomon sent a shot flying past the keeper from 25 metres out.
OFC U-20 Women’s Championship Golden Ball winner Cema Nasau found the equaliser, but a minute later in the 86th minute Junane Ishmael hit back with the winner, a long cross which curled into the net.
Vanautu Football Federation CEO Albert Manaroto was ecstatic with the two results.
“These are historical wins for football, the first gold medals for Vanuatu in the Pacific Mini Games,” he said.
“For the women, this is a milestone in the development of football. We can’t forget that what happened here, the impact goes a long way in terms of showcasing the capabilities of women.
“It’s the result of hard work, dedication from the team and the local female coaches and our Chinese coach who was able to achieve this success story.”
Manaroto said VFF extended its thanks and gratitude to the Van2017 team, the Vanuatu Government, Chinese Goverment, VASANOC and football ambassador and Minister of Education Jean Pierre Nirua.
“We want to acknowledge the partnership with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Team Vanuatu management team, the hard working coaches and football academy coaches, VFF staff and our member associations including PVFA, whose long time assistance has helped assist with the respective men’s and women’s teams preparations.”
Men’s team captain Jacky Ruben said the team followed the directives of their coach Etienne Mermer and were rewarded.
“I want to thank the boys for listening and applying the playing system of our coach Etienne. I told them, we would make sure we won gold today,” he said following the medal ceremony.