All Whites overcome spirited Vanuatu in front of big crowd at OFC Nations Cup

New Zealand have finished top of Group A at the OFC Men’s Nations Cup after overcoming a spirited Vanuatu team 4-0 in front of their fanatical home crowd at VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila.

History was firmly stacked against the home side who had only once beaten the All Whites in nine previous encounters — a legendary 4-2 victory during the 2004 OFC Men’s Nations Cup.

But history is history, and most of the youthful crowd at Freshwater Stadium were not even born when those Vanuatu heroes triumphed exactly two decades ago.

The Vanuatu Football Federation sold about 5,000 tickets, but with the thousands of children under 12 getting free entry, the crowd in Port Vila was estimated to be close to 10,000.

Both teams had already qualified for the semi-finals so New Zealand head coach Darren Bazeley used the second match to rotate goalkeeper Alex Poulsen for Max Crocombe and striker Ben Waine for Max Mata, while Sam Sutton made way for captain Liberato Cacace who was suspended for the first match.

Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

Vanuatu had no intention of treating this as a dead rubber, starting with their strongest line-up, replacing only the injured Tasso Jeffrey with Michel Coulon from the side that beat the Solomon Islands.

The hosts immediately got the big crowd on their feet when Alex Saniel unleashed a stinging drive, which Crocombe could only parry away for a corner.

Before Vanuatu could gather more steam, however, New Zealand silenced the passionate crowd with an opening goal just shy of the ten minute mark, when Elijah Just delivered a pinpoint cross to the far post for Mata to head home his first senior goal for his country.

Mata continued to threaten the Vanuatu goal and managed to get the ball in the net in the 26th minute, assisted by an unfortunate deflection off captain Brian Kaltak, after some clever build-up work by Just and Ben Old.

Some smart interplay by Godine Tenene and Bong Kalo nearly got Vanuatu back into the contest, but Kalo’s teasing cross was cleared off the line by Finn Surman, who continued to enhance his reputation alongside other youngster Tyler Bindon.

Mata and Kosta Barbarouses both thought they had scored a third, but were denied by the crossbar and offside flag respectively.

Vanuatu nearly punished New Zealand’s wastefulness, with a late flurry of chances, including a missile by Johnathan Spokeyjack, but Crocombe managed to ensure the 2-0 scoreline was kept intact.

Vanuatu came out firing in the second period and Spokeyjack nearly found the top corner within seconds of the restart.

Jesse Randall charges through for New Zealand. Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

As the desperation of the home team grew with every passing minute and fuelled by a roaring Vanuatu crowd, the physical challenges increased, one of them earning New Zealand’s Bindon a yellow card for an off-the ball incident.

The third New Zealand goal, from a terrific long-range effort by Just, ended the hopes of the home team after 63 minutes.

Player of the Match Just then turned provider for Ben Old, who smashed home his first international goal, triggering an early mass exit from the Freshwater Stadium.

The Vanuatu fans left disappointed, but can now look forward to a semi-final in the OFC Men’s Nations Cup on Thursday against the winner of Group B.

New Zealand will play their semi-final against the Pool B runners-up.


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


Game played on Friday June 21, 2024

New Zealand 4 (Max Mata 10′, own goal 26′, Elijah Just 63′, Ben Old 77′)
Vanuatu 0

Final standings


New Zealand’s starting line-up.

New Zealand

Max Crocombe, Tim Payne, Tyler Bindon (Tommy Smith 73′), Finn Surman (Lukas Kelly-Heald 73′), Liberato Cacace, Alex Rufer, Cameron Howieson, Elijah Just, Ben Old (Oskar van Hattum 83′), Max Mata (Alex Greive 58′), Kosta Barbarouses (Jesse Randall 83′).

Subs not used: Alex Paulsen, Oliver Sail, Sam Sutton, Fin Conchie, Ben Waine.


Yellow: Finn Surman (23′), Liberato Cacace (57′), Tyler Bindon (59′), Alex Rufer (90+4′)

Vanuatu’s starting line-up.


Michel Coulon, Jonathan Spokeyjack (John Well Wohale 86′), Brian Kaltack, Timothy Boulet (Kerry lawak 35′), John Alick, Bong Kalo (Joe Moses 86′), Jared Clark, Jason Thomas, Dgen Leo, Alex Saniel (Kensi Tangis 33′), Godine Sylver Toa Tenene.

Subs not used: Lency Philip, Alick Donald Worworbu, Jayson Timatua, Tasso Jeffrey, Claude Aru, Joshua Willie, James lamar.




Referee: Veer Singh (Fiji)
Assistant referee: Malaetala Salanoa (Samoa)
Assistant referee: Avinesh Narayan (Fiji)
Fourth official: David Yareboinen (Papua New Guinea)

Pool B fixtures

Games to be played on Saturday June 22, 2024

Samoa v Papua New Guinea
HFC Bank Stadium, Suva, Fiji, 4pm (NZT)

Fiji v Tahiti
HFC Bank Stadium, Suva, Fiji, 7pm (NZT)

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