Investment in facilities pays off as Vanuatu hosts OFC Men’s Nations Cup

posted in: News, OFC Nations Cup, OFC news

Capacity crowds and the successful hosting of an international tournament have seen Vanuatu’s new football facilities come through their first test with flying colours.

Fifty-one years after the maiden edition, the Vanuatu Football Federation (VFF) finally hosted a full edition of the OFC Men’s Nations Cup for the first time, with passionate fans filling the sparkling new VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila.

Melanesian neighbours Fiji hosted the second group in the seven-nation tournament, with the knockout matches held in Vanuatu.

This much-anticipated opportunity for Vanuatu was delivered with the support of FIFA.

The world governing body’s FIFA Forward programme funded the stadium with the aid of US$4.15 million, a financial boost that allowed Vanuatu the opportunity for a milestone event in the nation’s sporting history.

Local football fans made the most of the occasion, filling the 6,500-capacity stadium for all five of Vanuatu’s matches.

Up to 10,000 fans headed to the venue for the opening-day 1-0 win over Solomon Islands, while thousands more packed every patch of grass outside the venue simply to enjoy a small taste of the historic day.

It is a remarkable figure given it equates to around one in ten inhabitants of the island (Efate) descending on the football hub.

It is not just the volume of fans but the raw joy and enthusiasm displayed by those in attendance that marks out football in Vanuatu as something special.

Fans make use of every vantage point to enjoy football at VFF Freshwater Stadium. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Hosting the continental tournament is the latest in a series of developments that underline a recent rapid growth for Vanuatu. The national team was one of two OFC nations to feature in the recent inaugural FIFA Series.

READ MORE: Oceania sides test themselves against higher-ranked opposition in FIFA Series >>>>

Brian Kaltak became the first Pacific Islands’ player to win an A-League championship in 2023, and the national team captain proved that was no fluke by repeating the feat last month with his Central Coast Mariners side.

The Teouma Academy was renamed the Brian Kaltak Academy last year during FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s visit with the VFF, hoping to produce a host of young players following in Kaltak’s footsteps.

Federation President Lambert Maltock says owning the new facility has not only been a long-held dream, but means the VFF will no longer lose money paying rent.

“I’m really happy with the outcome of the stadium. It’s really good,” said Maltock, a FIFA Council member and current OFC President. “People are really happy when they come and see the competitions there.

“The attendances have been really good. In fact, we don’t just have enough space to accommodate our spectators. But now we can say that we own a stadium, and we have very big potential to raise local revenues to help sustain our development programme.”

The scope of works included 1,500 covered seats, a natural grass pitch, office spaces, floodlights, conference spaces, car parking, changing rooms, competition spaces and a car park, while there are future plans for capacity expansion and the development of a gymnasium for further revenue generation.

Notably, the upgraded venue was completed with sustainability, accessibility and resilience to climate change all factored into the design. The latter is particularly significant in the Pacific and was a focus at the recent FIFA Infrastructure & Facilities Maintenance Workshop in Papua New Guinea.

READ MORE: Oceania leaders gather for workshop to plan climate-resilient infrastructure >>>>

Vanuatu supporters … passionate in their backing of the local heroes. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

“We are prone to natural disasters every year, and this is why we designed our stadiums to be resilient,” Maltock said.

“The infrastructure is really well designed to stand against cyclones.

“We also have solar. We have an underground well and if ever there is a dry season, it’s enough to sustain the maintenance of the grass throughout the year.

“It’s one of the first projects that is really comprehensive. It’s small, but comprehensive and caters for all forms of needs of spectators. It is a model venue.

“I’m sure that this concept of a stadium will now be replicated elsewhere in OFC. We’re really happy with what FIFA is doing for us.”

Vanuatu finished runners-up after losing 3-0 to New Zealand in the final. But featuring in the decider was another new high for Vanuatu who had never progressed beyond the semi-final stage before.

Main photo: VFF Freshwater Stadium hosts the OFC Men’s Nations Cup final between hosts Vanuatu and New Zealand. Photo credit: OFC Media / Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Vanuatu will have another opportunity to show off their new facility with 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers on the horizon later this year, as well as staging OFC U-19 Men’s Championship qualifying.

Incredibly it will be their first World Cup qualifier since 2008, another positive by-product of the new facility.

Solomon Islands and their storied Lawson Tama Stadium have long been the yardstick to measure football passion in the Pacific, but there is now a new contender.

Vanuatu now look forward to the FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Photo credit: OFC Media / Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.


This story was first published on July 2, 2024.

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