Vanuatu pushes Mexico at Under-20 World Cup in South Korea

Vanuatu pushes Mexico at Under-20 World Cup in South Korea

Vanuatu pushes Mexico at Under-20 World Cup in South Korea

Updated 21 May 2017, 16:20 AEST

Vanuatu's Under-20 football side makes history by playing its first ever World Cup finals match against Mexico in South Korea.

The smallest country ever to reach football's World Cup finals has very nearly caused a huge upset in its first match.

Vanuatu had already made history by playing its debut World Cup match against Mexico at the Under-20 World Cup underway in South Korea.

Against expectations, the Pacific island went toe-to-toe with Mexico, with scores even at 2-all until deep into extra time of the game in Daejeon.

A Mexico goal in the 94th minute saved the Central Americans from humiliation at the hands of the Vanuatu team, who went into the tournament as the underdogs but were inspired by other small island states who have made it to top levels of international football.

Thousands watched the game in Vanuatu, after a last minute deal between FIFA and the country's national broadcaster, VBTC, allowed the match to be screened in the country.

That deal only came about because local football fans donated some of the cost of the broadcast rights to the cash-strapped VBTC.

VBTC board chairman Johnety Jerety admitted they had not been prepared for the backlash from the public when the organisation decided not to spend the little money it had on paying FIFA.

He told the ABC's Pacific Beat that under the agreement it would pay FIFA the discounted $40,000 fee on instalment.

Speaking ahead of the U-20 World Cup, Vanuatu's coach Dejan Glusevic said it would be an opportunity to show the whole world what Vanuatu could do on the pitch.

"It's about representing both the country and the Oceanian footballing family with pride, and earning the respect of the entire football community," he told

The Serbian national said Vanuatu had been waiting almost 85 years for the opportunity to showcase its talent on the international stage, and it faced extraordinary challenges even to qualify.

"The people of Vanuatu live and breathe football," he said.

"The players who achieved the incredible feat of qualifying their country for a World Cup for the first time ever, have gone down in history."

In Vanuatu's capital city Port Vila, former media manager for Vanuatu Football Harry Attison was among those watching every moment of the team's debut World Cup performance.

Before the match against Mexico, Mr Attison told Pacific Beat the fans would be thrilled with even one goal.

"If any player manages to score a goal, they will be in the Vanuatu record books," he said.

In the first match alone, captain Bong Kalo and midfielder Ronaldo Wilkins each achieved that feat.

The challenge continues for Vanuatu, whose other group matches are against Venezuela on Tuesday, May 23 and Germany on Friday, May 26.

Mr Attison said when they heard Vanuatu was drawn in group B with such strong teams, fans knew they were in for a tough ride.

"For us it's like a group of death, because we've never played Venezuela, Mexico and Germany in our lives," he said.

"At the end of the day, the fans of Vanuatu football and the government are very, very happy that we can make it to the World Cup, so it's good news, whatever the result."