Vanuatu win against Solomon Islands in OFC Men's Nations Cup opener

June 15, 2024 4:35 pm

[Source: OFC Media via Phototek]

Vanuatu set off a wild night of celebrations in Port Vila after beating Solomons Islands 1-0 in the opening match for the OFC Nations Cup.

A headed goal by veteran Kensi Tangis gave Vanuatu their first win over their rivals since 2017.

The match was dubbed a ‘Grand Final’ by both coaches after the withdrawal of New Caledonia. With New Zealand as the third team in Group A, defeat in the opening match could ruin their respective semi-final dreams.

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The Vanuatu capital Port Vila had eagerly awaited the OFC Men’s Nations Cup and 6,499 fans managed to secure a ticket, while thousands more packed every patch of grass, rooftops and car trunks in and around VFF Freshwater Stadium.

Buoyed by their football-mad fans, the home side started with a hiss and roar and Johnathan Spokey Jack thought he opened the scoring, only to be denied spectacularly by goalkeeper Phillip Mango and by defender Javid Alick in the rebound.

Over the years, the Solomon Islands have had a superior record against their Pacific neighbour and after the initial Vanuatu onslaught, the visitors started dominating possession as Atkin Kaua began pulling the strings in midfield.

Despite the dominance, Solomon Islands struggled to create clear-cut chances against a solid Vanuatu defence marshalled by Australia A-League champion Brian Kaltak.

Instead, Vanuatu came closest to scoring before the break, first when Bong Kalo missed an open goal, pulling his shot wide before Godine Tenene blasted his volley over the crossbar.

Coach Juliano Schmeling’s words at half-time clearly hit their mark, as Vanuatu moved into another gear and created several glorious chances. First Alex Saniel’s bullet shot narrowly missed the target, before two attempts by Kalo were blocked by defender Junior David and then Mango.

A Vanuatu goal only seemed a matter of time, but the roaring Port Vila crowd were made to hold their collective breath when Solomons captain Joses Nawo beautifully curled a shot inside the far post, only to be denied by a finger-tip save by Dgen Leo.

Vanuatu and their fans did get their well-deserved goal when super-sub Kensi Tangis headed home from a Tenene corner, setting off wild celebrations in VFF Freshwater Stadium and surrounding hillsides.

The 34-year-old Tangis, the oldest member of the Vanuatu squad, plays his club football for local Galaxy FC and could not have imagined a better venue to score the biggest goal of his career, only four minutes after coming on.

Solomon Islands continued to push for an equaliser as the clock ticked down. Substitute John Orobulu finding space on the edge of the area but his prodded effort was straight at Leo.

With the victory Vanuatu now have one foot in the semi-final whilst Solomon Islands will need an historic victory against New Zealand to keep their hopes of progression alive.