Vanuatu U-20 captain Bong Kalo says the side are driven to pen an exciting new chapter in their nation’s football history by qualifying for the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
The hosts take on Solomon Islands in the second semi-final of the OFC U-20 Championship on Tuesday and with two World Cup places on offer to Oceania for the first time, the winner of the semi-final qualifies direct to Korea 2017.
Vanuatu have never qualified for a FIFA event but are haunted by string of near misses. At U-20 level alone they have finished third four times and in 2014 they finished as runner-up to Fiji, who qualified for the New Zealand-hosted FIFA U-20 World Cup the following year.
With home advantage and form behind them the Group A winners now have their best chance in years to reach a global event.
It’s an historic opportunity not lost on a Kalo.
“The boys want to write a story, a new story for Vanuatu football,” said the 19 year old.
“Vanuatu have been involved with U-17, U-20, U-23 and senior tournaments in the past but we’ve never won. This team wants to be the first to qualify and write our own story for Vanuatu football.”
Kalo is already a familiar face in Vanuatu football having played at all levels from U-17 to senior level, including Olympic qualifiers and the recent OFC Nations Cup in Papua New Guinea. He is also a key figure for Tafea’s quest to topple Amicale at the top of Vanuatu club football and qualify for next year’s expanded OFC Champions League.
As captain, he says he tries to share the benefit of his experience with the other members of the squad but has been impressed by his teammates.
“The group is very disciplined. We’re the same age and we are together. We move forward with one mind.
“The mood in the camp is strong and solid. Our objective is to play the Solomon Islands and win. We know they are a strong team but the boys are ready for the game on Tuesday.”
One of the things Kalo’s more inexperienced tammates have had to adjust to is the size and noise of the crowds in the capital which have crammed Port Vila Stadium to near-capacity for the home side’s matches.
“The boys have never played in front of a big crowd before. When they played the first game against Fiji they were a bit nervous for a few minutes but after that we play without fear.
“We want to say thank you to all the fans. As captain I can say that the players need your support. I appeal to the fans to come support the two teams in the spirit of fair play and to help Vanuatu achieve its aim of qualifying for the U-20 World Cup”
Kalo, who scored from a sensational volley in Vanuatu’s win over Papua New Guinea, grew up in the Port Vila suburb of Fresh Water but hails from the island of Tanna. He says football is an avenue to make the people of Tanna proud.
His long-term ambitions are offshore though, and like many international footballers his age he dreams of landing a professional contract with a European club.
But for now, Kalo is focussed on achieving a team goal that may in turn inspire the dreams of other ni-Vanuatu footballers.
“For the whole country, if this U-20 team can be successful then the other age-groups can do it. It will be a big example for young boys who want to play football. If we can do it then others can follow. But the mission is not complete.”