Photo Credit: OFC Media via VFF

Vanuatu is now favoured to qualify for the big dance after a second emphatic win from as many matches at the OFC U-19 Men’s Championship 2024 – Qualifying, beating Tonga 3-0 on home turf at VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila.

The hosts are the only one of the four teams at the tournament with a perfect two-win record and will seal the last remaining spot for July’s OFC U-19 Men’s Championship in Samoa if they don’t lose to the Cook Islands in Monday’s third and final qualifying round.

The win over Tonga was a true test of courage in oppressive, sweltering conditions.

The first half was a contrast in styles, with Vanuatu’s skillful and speedy midfield and frontline dominating possession but struggling to breach the committed and physical Tongan defenders, ably backed by goalkeeper Siosiua Moimoi.

The hosts built plenty of pressure and forced numerous corners, but several times they were run off the ball at the back end of promising breaks and Ronn Tasarur was unlucky to have a screamer denied by the crossbar.

Another promising opportunity was presented just before half time when Moimoi inexplicably picked up the ball after already rolling it along the ground. But the indirect free kick was easily blocked, and the score remained deadlocked nil-all at the break.

Anxiety built among the vocal home ground as Vanuatu continued to look slick without any reward for their effort, but the groans of disappointment became squeals of delight in the 60th minute. Sergio Waoute hit what appeared to be an innocuous free kick from wide on the left wing, but an unfortunate deflection off otherwise impressive Tongan strongman Va’inga Teu left Moimoi flummoxed.

Vanuatu continued to press for a buffer and found comfort in the 68th minute when Manuel Loren’s left-footed free kick from the right-hand side was blocked by Moimoi, but Romain Luake was quick to pounce and head home for a 2-nil lead.

The fizz went out of the contest as Tonga failed to hold the ball long enough to truly challenge the Vanuatu defence, relying on the odd long ball which was invariably tidied up by the fast feet of the home team.

Vanuatu had the final say when Loren’s long-range shot could only be parried into the goal by Moimoi.

After two impressive wins without conceding a goal – leading to a goal difference of plus seven – Vanuatu is now in the box seat to earn the last remaining place at the OFC U-19 Men’s Championship…unless the Cook Islands play the match of their lives in the final showdown.

Tonga: 0

Vanuatu: 3 (OG 60’, Romain LUAKE 68’, Manuel LOREN 88’)

HT: 0-0