Wednesday , May 29 2024

OFC President Lambert Maltock pride in elevated Oceania playing standard!

OFC President Lambert Maltock’s pride in the rising standard of football among Oceania member nations is palpable.

Reflecting on the OFC U-19 Men’s Championship 2024 – Qualifying, in his home nation of Vanuatu the FIFA Council member signalled the on-field improvement of Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Tonga and American Samoa as the undoubted highlight.

“This competition has shown the level of improvement at age-group level in these countries,” Maltock said post-tournament. “I did not expect the gap to have closed this much and they’ve all displayed a very good level of football.”

23 goals were scored across the event’s six matches, including an unprecedented five by a valiant, but winless, American Samoa.

There was one draw at the tournament, two narrow wins by a solitary goal, and three dominant victories by the unbeaten home side. But there were no blow-outs. Even American Samoa’s opening day loss to Vanuatu by a tournament-high four goals was to be admired given they had met their new coach just twelve days previously and couldn’t train as much as David Jones would have liked due to observing religious obligations during Easter.

“I had to go to New Zealand for a meeting of the OFC Executive Committee mid-tournament and I expressed my delight with what Tonga, American Samoa and the Cook Islands have done to upgrade the level of competition,” Maltock said.

“Their performances were extremely heartening and even in the final match when the Cook Islands were down to ten players for more than half the game, they were superb, showed great heart and still managed to be more than competitive.

“We need to keep bringing these nations together to give them the level of competition that continues to improve their play and performances.”

Putting on his hat as President of the Vanuatu Football Federation (VFF), Maltock is thrilled his nation qualified for the final remaining place at July’s OFC U-19 Men’s Championship in Samoa, scoring nine goals across their three qualifying matches without conceding.

“I’m very pleased with the result and that we’ve qualified,” Maltock said, “but I’m more pleased to see our football has changed and the style is much improved. It is complete football.

“The skill these kids are showing under pressure is unbelievable. I didn’t expect to see them play such a beautiful game. They are very confident in themselves and their passing accuracy during this tournament was perfect.”

Maltock believes the expertise of highly-regarded overseas coaches is starting to have an effect on many of the Pacific nations, pointing to the influence Emerson Alcântara is having in Vanuatu.

The head coach of the senior Vanuatu side, as well as the U-19s, the Brazilian was recruited in 2022 to oversee the Freshwater Project, striving to develop high-level skills and a consistent style of play at all levels of football in the Melanesian nation of approximately 335,000 people.

“Our aspiration when we brought in Emerson was to change our football and I’m really happy that it’s working. He was chosen over other candidates because we asked ourselves ‘How do we want to play? ‘How do we go back to our roots and get our beautiful football back’?

“We had a style of play we inherited from the past, but lost. Now we’re thankful to have it back and that’s what the kids were displaying here. The three matches at this tournament have made quite a statement. We are showing people there is real hope for football in Vanuatu.

“There is no panic among the players and they are following the game plan and instruction of the coach to the letter. And while the results are important, that’s not the point, it’s the style…the new style of game they play today under Emerson’s direction.

“If they continue to build this way, in ten year’s time we will have hundreds of kids that know each other, know the standard they need to attain and have the confidence to do it. You will be able to swap players in and out, but the approach will be consistent and the output will be just the same.”

Maltock believes the Freshwater Project will continue to motivate young players in Vanuatu by showing them a clear pathway to success.

“We are embracing the grassroots of the game and aiming to create complete footballers from an early age.

“We start with the youngsters in the age group from six to twelve, developing skills and a passion for the game, then we ramp up learnings from 12 to 16 and then go up another cog with the elite performers in national programmes through to our Olympic Under-23 team.”

Maltock expects to see more Oceania players follow in the footsteps of Vanuatu’s national hero Brian Kaltak, the 30-year-old central defender for reigning A League champions the Central Coast Mariners.

“By developing skills at an early age, they will be ready to trial for professional clubs in their teens and early twenties. Any older and it’s too late.

For Vanuatu, hosting tournaments like the OFC U-19 Men’s Championship 2024 – Qualifying and last season’s OFC Champions League is crucial to building that professionalism.

“Vanuatu is going ahead in leaps and bounds in terms of the ability needed to host tournaments like this,” Maltock said.

“We want to do our best to make sure we meet OFC’s expectations and I’d like to thank all the members of the Local Organising Committee. They’ve done a great job to make sure the U-19s tournament has run as smoothly as possible and been accessible to stakeholders, especially with TV coverage on FIFA+.

“I’m really happy. It’s been amazing to see the level of attendance of kids, families and fans.

“They’ve come out in numbers to enjoy this beautiful game and if the standard of play, along with the administrative support off the pitch, is as high as it has been this past week, they’ll continue to be crazy about the sport.

“Football is the most popular game in Vanuatu and it’s only going to grow… to reach even greater heights.”

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