Ole Football Academy coaching staff help Vanuatu U20 qualify for World Cup in Korea in 2017.
Being carried off the field on the shoulders of his players amid wildly jubilant scenes was something Declan Edge won’t forget in a hurry.
Edge, a coach at Ole Football Academy in Porirua, was the technical adviser for Vanuatu’s under-20 football side the recent Oceania qualifying for next year’s World Cup.
A 95th minute goal from midfielder Frederick Massing gave Vanuatu a 2-1 win over Solomon Islands in Port Vila on September 13 and the result put them into the final against New Zealand. More importantly, it meant qualification for the World Cup was secured.
“After playing each game in Port Vila, we would always go out of the stadium and turn left, towards [the Vanawatu] academy,” Edge said.
“After beating the Solomons we turned right and it took us about three hours to get back.
“It was insane – crowds on the street and cars and horns. There must’ve been 25,000 people at the semi-final. [The players] were heroes.”
Vanuatu’s football president Lambert Matlock said the qualification run of the “Golden Turtles” was followed at every step in their homeland and brought “tears of joy … reminding us what can be achieved if we believe”.
It was the tonic the the Pacific nation needed after the devastation of Cyclone Pam in March 2015, Ole coach and Turtles manager Ben Sippola said.
The players were flown to New Zealand to train, many had not left the islands before, Sippola said.
“Us being involved was about football on one level, sure,” he said.
“We had a blank canvas and quickly realised it was more about developing young men, giving them the opportunity to experience something and show off their talent.
“We also hope the publicity will help to generate awareness and funding about re-building the country’s infrastructure after the cyclone.”
Vanuatu won all four qualification games before succumbing 5-0 to New Zealand in the final.
Edge said their footballing skills were “rough around the edges” and plenty of technical and conditioning work was still needed.
The squad is likely to come to Ole early next year to prepare for the World Cup in South Korea in May and June, Edge said.
“They’re mad about football and will work hard, I know that. They’ve brought pride to their country but there’s a lot to be done before the tournament. It’s exciting but daunting.”
Story by Stuff.