With a place in the title decider of the OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifier up for grabs, Vanuatu U-23 midfielder Ronaldo Wilkins can’t wait for Wednesday’s do-or-die semi-final at Lautoka’s Churchill Park.
After finishing on top of Group B with victories in all three of their matches, Etienne Mermer’s side will be facing Solomon Islands, who finished behind New Zealand as Group A runners-up in Suva.
It’s promising to be a thrilling encounter between the two Melanesian rivals, and Wilkins is full of confidence after accounting for hosts Fiji in Sunday’s Group B decider.
“Oh yes after our victory the boys and the coach we are all happy because I think it’s our first time in a long while to beat Fiji on their home ground and that’s one thing we are super proud of and it’s a great achievement for us,” he said.
Wilkins, who grew up in Port Vila, was first introduced to futsal as a 6-year-old before switching to football when he turned 12.
After spending some time in New Caledonia’s Zimako Football Academy, the midfielder returned to Vanuatu to play for Shepherds United and soon he was rewarded with a call up to represent his country at the 2015 OFC U-17 Championship where he scored four goals in six matches to help his side securing the bronze medal.
His performance at the 2015 U-17 tournament led to a move to the New Zealand capital, joining the Academy of the professional A-League club Wellington Phoenix.
Wilkins played a key role in Vanuatu’s historic qualification for the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup and moved back to Vanuatu to prepare for his side’s campaign in South Korea.
“After playing with the U-17s I went to New Zealand for two years and spent time with Wellington Phoenix but after the U-20 Qualifier I decided to just stay back home,” he remembers.
Following some eye-catching performances at the U-20 FIFA World Cup, Wilkins was offered a two weeks trial at the Academy of Brazilian football giants São Paulo in November 2017.
“I went for a trail in Brazil with Sao Paulo but I didn’t make it because I only had two weeks and couldn’t perform well enough and that’s my background I think,” he lamented.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on a stint in Brazil, Wilkins made his senior debut for his country against New Caledonia a month later and the 19-year-old has made seven more appearances for the Vanuatu national team since.
The current OFC Olympic Qualifier tournament in Fiji is offering the young midfielder another opportunity for exposure on the global stage, and he is determined to help his side to secure Oceania’s only spot on offer at next year’s games in Tokyo.
However, Vanuatu’s first challenge is to edge past Solomon Islands in Wednesday’s semis.
And Wilkins is expecting a tough test from their Melanesian rivals.
“Solomon looks really good, their players, we have a lot of respect for them but I might add in all our games, we take each one as a final, we don’t under estimate any opponents, and we know it won’t be easy, we realise our game with Solo will be a very tough one but we will see what will happen on the day,” the Vanuatu midfielder said.