PREVIEW: All Whites prepared for fired-up Vanuatu in OFC Nations Cup final

New Zealand are chasing a sixth OFC Nations Cup title but will have to overcome a rampant Vanuatu who are enjoying a fairytale tournament on home soil.

The All Whites easily progressed to Sunday’s tournament final with a 5-0 win over Tahiti, while Vanuatu narrowly beat Fiji, 2-1, in a ferocious semi-final to reach their first-ever final.

Main photo: Captains meet … New Zealand’s Liberato Cacace (left) and Vanuatu’s Brian Kaltak are ready for the final. Photo credit: OFC Media / Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Both teams qualified from Group A, but both coaches feel the 4-0 win to New Zealand in the group stage should not be a factor when the teams meet again at 4pm (NZT) at VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila.

Darren Bazeley.

“It’s a final, and everything’s on the line. Players lift for finals. It’s going to be a challenging game for us,” New Zealand coach Darren Bazeley said at the pre-final media conference.

“We know the big crowd, the hype and the excitement for Vanuatu will bring different challenges. But our boys know they’re good. They’re professional.” Bazeley said.

READ MORE: Oceania’s pinnacle event becomes a showcase for true football passion >>>>

Vanuatu Coach Juliano Schmeling said New Zealand had been the strongest team at the competition and it would take a special performance from his team to deny the defending champions.

“I think we need to play a perfect game to be able to get the title,” said the Brazilian, who feels the 4-0 loss in the group stage would not create a psychological hurdle but could prove to be helpful.

“I think the players have learned from the first game. I think for me it’s a bonus to be able to play against New Zealand before, and now again in the final,” said Schmeling, who quickly diverted a question about any possible chinks in the New Zealand armour.

Juliano Schmeling.

“Of course, we will analyse New Zealand, but I will not be able to tell you, especially with Darren sitting next to me,” smiled the Brazilian and drawing a wee chuckle from the New Zealand coach alongside him.

Vanuatu will likely be without their playmaker Bong Kalo, who hobbled off with an injury against Fiji, while Tim Payne will be in a race against time to recover from the hamstring injury that forced him off in the semi-final for New Zealand

Payne was being assessed on Friday, so Bazeley could not make any predictions on his availability for the final.

Bazeley said he had seen a progression for both teams through the tournament and was full of praise for Vanuatu’s performance in the semi-final.

“I thought it was a performance full of heart and a lot of courage to play. I thought they played some really good football and were brave in possession.

“Vanuatu is a team trying to play up from the back, and trying to play through the thirds, and trying to get it to those tricky wingers they have, that I thought performed very well on the day,” said Bazeley.

After the energy-sapping victory over Fiji, Vanuatu celebrated as if they had already won a trophy, but Schmeling was not concerned whether his players could recharge for the final.

“Yesterday, after the final whistle, the changing room was insane. It was a feeling of winning a title and they need to celebrate. People in the nation need to celebrate, but for the players, it’s a totally different story.

“After the game, we had a good talk and the leadership of the players were already focused on the final, they want to make history. Of course, we know the challenge, but it’s one game, 90 minutes; anything can happen.”

READ MORE: All Whites power past Tahiti to clinch place in OFC Men’s Nations Cup final >>>>

READ MORE: Vanuatu make history to reach Sunday’s OFC Men’s Nations Cup final >>>>


Games to be played on Sunday June 30, 2024

Play-off for third place

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


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

This story was first published on June 30, 2024.

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