PREVIEW: All Whites expect ‘tough’ semi-final, says skipper Liberato Cacace

New Zealand captain Liberato Cacace says his team will know what to expect when they meet Tahiti in Thursday’s semi-final of the OFC Men’s Nations Cup.

He believes the All Whites have the advantage that most of their players have experienced playing in the Pacific at youth level.

“Yeah, that’s definitely an advantage. It helps us prepare and know what to expect from these island nations. The semi-final is going to be a big challenge because we found it tough in Qatar, and for sure, we’re going to find it tough here.”

Main photo: Liberato Cacace … ‘The semi-final is going to be a big challenge.’

Thursday’s match will be a repeat of the semi-final at the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament, when New Zealand were pushed to the limit by Tahiti and needed a late goal by Cacace to advance to the final.

“The last goal I’ve actually scored in my career was against Tahiti in the semi-final in Qatar,” says Cacace, who has since been on the wrong side of several VAR calls denying him goals for his Serie A club Empoli in Italy.

The left back has returned to the New Zealand camp as their captain and knows first-hand how dangerous their French Polynesian opponents will be.

“Yeah, it was a tough game that semi-final in Qatar. They were a tough opponent to beat. They were set up very well, and we had to be patient, and luckily, we got that goal in the end that took us to the final.”

Port Vila’s VFF Freshwater Stadium will reach boiling point on Thursday when the four semi-finalists at the OFC Men’s Nations Cup battle it out for a place in Sunday’s final.

In the early match, Tahiti will claim their first final spot since their historic victory at the 2012 OFC Men’s Nations Cup in Honiara, if they can overcome tournament favourites and defending champions, New Zealand.

The Tahitians have had mixed performances, with a 2-0 win over Samoa, a tough 1-1 draw against Papua New Guinea and a narrow 1-0 loss against Fiji in Suva.

Samoa’s Kaleb De Groot-Green (left) and Tahiti captain Teaonui Tehau during their group game. Photo: Kirk Corrie / Phototek.

Captain Teaonui Tehau knows his team will have to step up another gear to upset the Kiwi professionals, who are ranked 54 places above them in the FIFA rankings.

He says Tahiti will take a lot of confidence from their most recent encounter with New Zealand, who are missing several of their frontline players who competed in 2022, including Nottingham Forest players Chris Wood and Marko Stamenic.

“New Zealand is the best team here, but in one match, anything is possible,” Tehau says.

“We had a very good strategy against New Zealand in Qatar and they only managed one goal, so this week we will come up with another good strategy for a good result.”

Tehau hopes the local fans will back the underdogs from Tahiti.

“We have two players in our team with family links to Vanuatu, so we hope that the local fans will support their Vanuatu players,” the Tahiti captain says.

In the other semi-final, hosts Vanuatu will ride the wave of the fanatical home support in their clash with Fiji, who won all their matches in Group B.

On the other side of the draw, the entire nation of Vanuatu is expecting captain Brian Kaltak and his team to break new ground by reaching their first OFC Men’s Nations Cup final.

“We believe we can write history on Thursday,” Kaltak said earlier this week.

READ MORE: Brian Kaltak dreams of making history with Vanuatu at OFC Men’s Nations Cup >>>>

Vanuatu qualified for the final after beating the Solomon Islands who are ranked 37 places above them, and with the home support give themselves a realistic chance to topple the unbeaten Fijians.

“The crowds make a huge difference. I am looking forward to seeing that same crowd in the semis,” said Kaltak.

The Fijians have looked formidable in their three group matches, scoring 15 goals and conceding only one.

Roy Krishna … prolific goalscorer for Fiji. Photo credit: OFC Media / Phototek.

Tournament topscorer Roy Krishna says his team has been building quietly towards the semi-final and won’t be too intimidated by the roaring stands at Freshwater Stadium.

“It is nothing new to us. We have played in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and PNG, so we know how passionate they are, but we will just focus on our own gameplan.

“It is good to get some momentum in the tournament. We have been through some tough games, but now we are at the business end. One bad game and you are out,” says Krishna, who has become the leading men’s scorer in OFC with 40 goals in 55 matches, but will come up against one of the best defenders in the A-League in Brian Kaltak.

“I know Brian well and we speak quite a lot, so I am really looking forward to playing against him. I respect what he has achieved for himself, Vanuatu and OFC and all credit to him. We respect each other, but we are both very competitive and we both want to win.”

Like Vanuatu, Fiji is chasing their own history and can reach their first ever OFC Men’s Nations Cup final on Thursday. The Bula Boys finished third in 1998 and 2008, but never made it past the semi-finals.

Asked which team he would prefer to meet in a possible final, the Fiji captain says that he has not looked that far ahead.

“It is going to be a special moment for the players and the whole of Fiji football. We have not been in a final for a while but need to take care of Vanuatu first before we start worrying about who we will see in the final.”


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


Games to be played on Thursday June 27, 2024


New Zealand v Tahiti
VFF Freshwater Stadium, Port Vila, Vanuatu, 12pm (NZT)

READ MORE: All Whites to face Tahiti in Thursday’s semi-finals at OFC Men’s Nations Cup >>>>

Fiji v Vanuatu
VFF Freshwater Stadium, Port Vila, Vanuatu, 4pm (NZT)

READ MORE: Brian Kaltak dreams of making history with Vanuatu at OFC Men’s Nations Cup >>>>

Games to be played on Sunday June 30, 2024

OFC Men’s Nations Cup

Play-off for third place

Loser semi-final 1 v loser semi-final 2
VFF Freshwater Stadium, Port Vila, Vanuatu, 12pm (NZT)


Winner semi-final 1 v winner semi-final 2
VFF Freshwater Stadium, Port Vila, Vanuatu, 4pm (NZT)

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