New Zealand neutralise Vanuatu flair

New Zealand 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 in Port Vila.

History was firmly stacked against the home side who had only once beaten the New Zealand 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 around 5000 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 from, so New Zealand 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.

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

The hosts immediately got the massive 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.

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 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.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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