New Zealand secure sixth OFC Men’s Nations Cup success

Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

New Zealand have claimed their sixth OFC Men’s Nations Cup title after a scrappy 3-0 win over Vanuatu at VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila. 

A gallant home side had lost their group match against New Zealand 4-0, but managed to push the title favourites to the limit. 

Vanuatu had already written football history before a ball was kicked after reaching their first ever OFC Men’s Nations Cup final to mark the federation’s 90th anniversary and around 10,000 excited fans packed the Freshwater Stadium, while many more watched on the rooftops and cars surrounding the stadium. 

The home side has been proud to host their first OFC Men’s Nations Cup and the colourful, heaving masses in the arena provided a perfect backdrop for Oceania’s pinnacle football event. 

New Zealand made only one change to their starting eleven, with Sam Sutton coming in for Tim Payne who had not recovered from his hamstring strain picked up in the semi-final, while Alex Saniel came back into the Vanuatu side to replace injured Bong Kalo, whilst Kerry Iawak had to make way for Timothy Boulet. 

The passionate locals had been singing, cheering and dancing long before kick-off, but Cam Howieson sucked the air out of the stadium within two minutes with a superb volley from the edge of the box, hitting the net before goalkeeper James Iamar could even move, for his first international goal. 

The Vanuatu fans were shellshocked, but their heroes regained their composure, demonstrating how far this team has come in a short period under the leadership of captain Brian Kaltak and new Head Coach Juliano Schmeling. 

Encouraged by their fanatical fans, cheering every pass, clearance and tackle, Vanuatu started dominating possession, but the New Zealand defence remained largely untroubled and goalkeeper Max Crocombe only had to make one punching clearance in the first-half. 

At the other end, Kosta Barbarouses could have doubled the New Zealand lead, but was denied by a strong fist from Iamar. 

In their previous three matches, New Zealand had forced an early decision on each occasion, scoring 12 goals without conceding, but failed to distance themselves from the resilient hosts in the final, keeping Vanuatu hopes alive. 

Liberato Cacace was again a threat going forward on the left, but his strikers were unable to convert any of the possession into more goals. 

Coach Schmeling threw on his trump-card, veteran striker Kensi Tangis, the match winner against the Solomons Islands in the group stage, to provide an outlet for their attacks and his mere presence instantly created problems for the New Zealand defence – providing encouragement to the Vanuatu fans that an upset might still be on the cards. 

The match increasingly turned into a midfield scrap on a bumpy pitch without many clear-cut changes, but just when Vanuatu were gearing up for their final assault, Timothy Boulet received a second yellow card, dealing a major blow to the hopes of the home team. 

Even with a man down, Vanuatu kept pushing for an equaliser, but their hearts were broken when substitute Jesse Randall latched onto a loose ball in the Vanuatu box to claim his first international goal and secure New Zealand’s sixth OFC Men’s Nations Cup title. 

Substitute Max Mata put a seal on things in stoppage time, adding a third following great build-up play by Player of the Match Liberato Cacace. 

New Zealand: 3 (Cam HOWIESON 2′, Jesse RANDALL 83′, Max MATA 90+3′) 

Vanuatu: 0 

HT 1-0.