Vanuatu’s Frederick Massing scored deep into injury time to clinch a 2-1 win over 10-man Solomon Islands in the semi-final of the OFC U-20 Championship and send his nation to the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the first time in its history.
With scores locked at 1-1 for the entire second half, the game looked to be heading for extra time but Vanuatu captain Bong Kalo unleashed a shot that goalkeeper Harold Nauania could only parry into the path of Massing who tapped in to send an already vocal home crowd into absolute delirium.
“I am so happy to score the winning goal for Vanuatu,” said Massing.
“Today is a huge day for me and all the players. Now we look forward to representing our small nation in the FIFA U-20 World Cup.”
It is the first time Vanuatu have ever qualified for a FIFA event and they join New Zealand – who beat New Caledonia 3-1 in the other semi-final – among 24 teams in Korea next year.
In a tense encounter Solomon Islands had earlier taken a 21st minute lead largely against the run of play when Joe Gise laced a swirling free kick past Willie Dick.
Vanuatu squared the ledger when Godine Tenene, picked out by a beautiful ball towards the back post, buried his half-volley past Desmond Tutu – who was later replaced by Nauania in an injury-enforced change midway through the second half.
The game took a dramatic turn with 13 minutes remaining when Vanuatu defender Jason Thomas pulled back Israel Tatai by his shirt. Thomas received a yellow card for his part but with Tatai lashing out, referee Nick Waldron had little choice but to send the Solomon Island forward for an early shower.
The game opened up slightly for the ni-Vanuatu and although Solomon Islands missed a great chance to nick the win when Jabeth Solomon was through on goal as the clock ticked down, ultimately the honour of sending his team to their first FIFA U-20 World Cup fell to Massing.
Vanuatu’s technical advisor Declan Edge said the scenes of jubilation at fulltime, with the crowd joining the team on the pitch for celebrations brought home what it meant for the island nation of 250,000 people to reach a FIFA event.
“Maybe I’m just grasping what it means to the group now,” said Edge.
“There’s grown men that I’ve been working with for the last month crying so it’s obviously pretty emotional. It’s the first World Cup that Vanuatu have ever been to.”
“I thought we deserved to win. We were the most dominant team, the team most looking to score and attack. We were knocking on the door the whole game and sometimes you have to wait to the last minute.”
Solomon Islands coach Pedro Mateo said the red card was a turning point but had still hoped they could take the game to 90 minutes and then regroup.
“We knew that we would play with the crowd against us. We tried to keep the players calm before the match and the started well. The goal helped of course but some mistakes crept in as they came back into the game and we didn’t deal with the pressure well.
“We did better in the second half but it was tough after the red card. We tried to calm the game down and get to extra time but it was not possible.”
While the victory sparked wild celebrations in Port Vila, the Vanuatu team won’t have long to enjoy it as they must re-group for the chance to claim a regional crown when they take on New Zealand in the OFC U-20 Championship final on Saturday.