While the Vanuatu women’s football team lost 3-1 in their first Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) game against Papua New Guinea, they played against the odds, having only had their first training session together after arriving in Fiji days earlier.
Due to COVID regulations in their home nation, the players had been given a home training package.
However the team still believes they can qualify to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, describing any such achievement as “a dream come true for the players and the people of Vanuatu”.
Football is popular in Vanuatu, with the local competition containing nine football clubs consisting of players from 83 islands.
Vanuatu Women’s Head Coach Yalou Robert said their participation in the 2022 OFC Women’s Nations Cup took a miracle.
The players had never played a single game of football, not even a single club game let alone an international fixture.
“We are confident, and we know we can make it through to the FIFA World Cup qualifying tournaments. For us, it is all about making it to the world cup, if we do, then all of Vanuatu will be happy and I will be the happiest man on earth,” Robert said.
The lack of team chemistry in Vanuatu’s 3 -1 defeat was obvious. The coach believes that the first game was a stepping stone and they can only get better.
“We have players who are based in the outer islands, so they had to take their training home care packs with them back home, but football is a team sport, and teams needed to train and play together. We, like many of the other teams in this competition did not have that,” Robert said.
Fiji’s depleting numbers
While the pandemic restricted Vanuatu’s training, hosts Fiji who may have had the best training with local competition in full swing and even a few friendlies before the start of the tournament, is faced with a grave problem.
There has been an outbreak of COVID in Fiji forcing many of its top players to sit out and field an almost second string team.
Even Fiji’s coach has had to sit out.
The Oceania Nations Cup continues in Suva, Fiji.