The words of Vanuatu head coach Jean Robert Yelou after his side’s 0-0 draw with Tahiti at the HFC Bank Stadium in Suva, Fiji last night summarised a dramatic final day of group stage action at the OFC Women’s Nations Cup 2022 perfectly.
“That’s how football is,” he stated post-match, not knowing at the time that his team would be the one, from the nine competing, to be exiting at this stage of the competition.
The nature of the tournament’s group stage meant it was always going to be a tough exit for one nation, but nobody could have expected quite how intensely it would play out.
Before the start of play in Wednesday’s games, Tahiti v Vanuatu and New Caledonia v Solomon Islands, all four teams involved were in danger of elimination – as were Group A’s Tonga.
In the end, it took a second-half fightback from New Caledonia, a piece of clutch goalkeeping from Tahiti’s Camille Andre and some errand tackles to send Vanuatu home.
Vanuatu had the chance to master their own destiny when Torika Delai awarded them a penalty deep into stoppage time v Tahiti. However, Liyo Eramol’s effort was saved by the inspired Andre to ensure Tahiti’s safe passage.
Vanuatu’s three bookings in the game also pushed Tonga through from Group A, by way of a superior fair play points record.
Hope was not yet lost for Vanuatu and with the Solomon Islands 1-0 up and threatening to stretch their lead against New Caledonia it seemed they may be thrown a lifeline.
However, Jennifer Neporo’s quick-fire double secured New Caledonia their quarter-final status, despite the Solomons equalising to set up a tense finale.
It’s a tough way to exit the competition for Vanuatu but they will take heart from their performances.
They nearly shocked the tournament favourites Papua New Guinea in match day one, equalising in the second-half and enjoying a moment of dominance before the highest-ranked nation eventually claimed a 3-1 victory.
Then came Tahiti and that last-minute penalty heartache.
Like so many of the team’s participating in the tournament, preparation has been fraught with difficulty. Vanuatu’s head coach Jean Robert Yelou was delivering individual training schedules to his players as recently as April due to a COVID-19 lockdown. So regardless of their exit, he remains positive.
“For me I think for the whole game nothing was wrong,” he said after the 0-0 draw with Tahiti.
“I am very positive of this game. This game is one of the best games we have played for the whole 90 minutes.
“I am very proud of the girls. We always try our best to build from the back and for me I am proud of the performance.”
While Vanuatu will exit the eight qualifying teams; group winners Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Fiji; runners-up Cook Islands, Tahiti and Solomon Islands and highest ranked third-place finishers Tonga and New Caledonia advance to the quarter-finals to be played on the weekend of July 23/24.