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Vanuatu Secure Final Spot At OFC U-19 Men's Championship 2024

Vanuatu has triumphed at the OFC U-19 Men’s Championship 2024 – Qualifying by downing a 10-man Cook Islands 2-0 in front of a fervent home crowd at VFF Freshwater Stadium in Port Vila.

The win means Vanuatu has fended off challenges from the Cook Islands, Tonga and American Samoa to secure the last remaining place at July’s OFC U-19 Men’s Championship in Samoa.

The final match of the three-round qualifying tournament had become a veritable grand final with Vanuatu and the Cook Islands both unbeaten heading into their third match – the home nation with two emphatic wins and the visitors with a win and a draw.

The Cook Islands – needing a win to progress – started strongly, enjoying territorial dominance in the opening salvos despite playing into a brisk wind. But they failed to utilise their height advantage, twice aiming relatively long-range free kicks at the goal rather than heads.

Vanuatu looked slick when they employed their short passing game but the Cooks maintained their shape and made it difficult to weave through the traffic, especially as they were robust in challenges – conceding two yellow cards in the first 26 minutes.

Defensive midfielder Shane Tuteru’s yellow in the 16th minute came back to bite him when he followed his own tip-on into the penalty box in the 40th minute and kicked wildly at the bouncing ball. His air swing looked to have missed ball and opponent, but Rico Welin hit the deck and referee Neeshil Varman branded a second yellow, which had Tuteru seeing red – reducing the Cook Islands to 10 players with more than half the match still to play.

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Vanuatu themselves conceded two yellows in the next five minutes, but – crucially – also scored the opening goal out of nowhere. Midfielder Jean Patriano Natou took possession thirty metres from the Cook Islands’ goal, moved forward five metres as he dribbled around an opponent and then let fly with a speculator that rocketed low into the left-hand side of the goal after bouncing awkwardly in front of goalkeeper Emmett Connolly, diving in vain at full stretch.

Vanuatu doubled their advantage 10 minutes into the second half when playmaker Sergio Waoute dribbled into the box and unleashed a left foot screamer.

Cook Islands left winger Jeremiah Williams almost pulled a goal back just a few minutes later but his header elicited an equally brilliant save from dynamic goalkeeper Joseph Nakou.

The Cooks were valiant and hit the post from a free kick in the 84th minute and cruelly missed a penalty in the final minute, but with only nine outfielders they simply couldn’t bend a well organised and quicksilver Vanuatu team.

Worthy tournament winners after scoring nine goals without conceding any, Vanuatu will now join Group A at the OFC U-19s Men’s Championship, competing against Fiji, Tahiti and the Solomon Islands.

New Zealand, the winner of the past four OFC U-19’s events, will head Group B alongside New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and hosts Samoa.

Cook Islands: 0

Vanuatu: 2 (Jean Patriano NATOU 45+1’, Sergio WAOUTE 55’)

HT: 1-0 Vanuatu

© Scoop Media

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