OFC Nations Cup tournament opener a ‘grand final’ for All Whites’ opponents

The opening match of the 2024 OFC Nations Cup between hosts Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands has been tagged a grand final by both teams, due to the late withdrawal of New Caledonia.

With tournament favourites New Zealand as the third team in Group A, both teams realise an opening defeat could ruin any chances of making the semi-finals.

READ MORE: Civil unrest forces New Caledonia to pull out of OFC Nations Cup tournament >>>>

Juliano Schmeling. Photo credit: OFC / Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

“This game is a grand final for us, nothing more, nothing less, so we have to step up,” said Solomon Islands interim head coach Jacob Moli at the pre-tournament media conference in Port Vila.

Vanuatu counterpart Juliano Schmeling agreed that securing victory against the Solomon Islands was vital to progress in the tournament.

“We understand New Zealand is at different level in Oceania, so this will be the key match. Now New Caledonia couldn’t make it, this is a big match, a grand final for both of us,” said the Vanuatu coach, who was only appointed a few weeks before the tournament, just like his colleague in the Solomons dug-out.

The Brazilian is realistic about what can be achieved in a short preparation time, and says the result at the OFC Nations Cup is important, but not the end goal

“Of course, we want to do well in front of our own fans, but even a loss would be part of the longer process of developing a strong national team for the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign,” said Schmeling.

The Vanuatu coach said he will tap into his deep knowledge of the Solomon players after working with their national futsal team eight years ago.

“Of course, I will utilise every single thing I know about them, but it was many years ago, so I am not sure how much it will help. I know them, but they know me as well as a coach,” Schmeling says.

Jacob Moli. Photo credit: OFC / Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Moli had even less time to prepare for the OFC Nations Cup after he accepted the job only two weeks ago, but he knows the playing squad well and is confident he will put out a formidable side on Saturday.

“We have only had two weeks to prepare, so we need to make sure we do the simple things well and everyone knows their roles and responsibilities on the field,” Moli said.

The Solomon Islands have enjoyed a successful period in recent times, coming agonisingly close to winning the final of the Pacific Games on home soil in December.

Despite the Solomons only losing six times in 35 matches against Vanuatu, the last time in 2017, their coach is quick to hand the home team the favourites’ tag.

“I would say Vanuatu is the favourite on Saturday and we just hope we turn up and are ready for the game,” said Moli, who is calling on the Solomon Islands community in Port Vila to come out in force on Saturday to support their country.

Main photo: Solomon Islands’ Phillip Mango and Vanuatu’s Brian Kaltak. Photo credit: OFC / Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

The 2024 OFC Nations Cup is the first time the OFC pinnacle event is hosted in Vanuatu and captain Brian Kaltak expects Freshwater Stadium to be packed.

Asked about the home-town pressure, Kaltak says the team has been slightly insulated from the excitement in the capital at their tournament hotel.

“For the boys from here there will be increased pressure, but also excitement. When the Solomons and Vanuatu play each other, it is always crazy.”

Kaltak is Vanuatu’s first professional player who recently won his second A-League title with Central Coast Mariners.

“That grand final was the biggest crowd I played for, but I have learned to deal with that pressure, so I will try to use that experience and help the boys to settle down.”

Acknowledgement

We are grateful for the help of OFC Media in providing the information for this story.

Fixtures


Game to be played on Saturday June 15, 2024

Solomon Islands v Vanuatu
Port Vila, Vanuatu, 4pm (NZT)

New Zealand’s fixtures (revised)

READ MORE: Four new faces called into All Whites for OFC Nations Cup tournament >>>>

Game to be played on Tuesday June 18, 2024

New Zealand v Solomon Islands
VFF Fresh Water Stadium, Port Vila, 4pm (NZT)

Game to be played on Friday June 21, 2024, 2024

New Zealand v Vanuatu
VFF Fresh Water Stadium, Port Vila, 4pm (NZT)

More football stories