Three Auckland signings deliver sixth OFC Nations Cup title to New Zealand

Isuzu UTE A-League players were at the heart of New Zealand’s OFC Men’s Nations Cup triumph, including a trio set to grace the competition with expansion club Auckland FC.

The All Whites took down Brian Kaltak’s Vanuatu 3-0 in Port Vila, where Cameron Howieson, Jesse Randall and Max Mata scored on Sunday.

Howieson, Randall and Mata are three Auckland recruits as Steve Corica’s side prepare for their debut season in 2024-25.

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In Sunday’s decider, Howieson set the tone after opening the scoring after just two minutes at a capacity VFF Freshwater Stadium, where fans were watched from cars and rooftops.

Wellington Phoenix captain Alex Rufer was also in the starting XI, as were teammates Kosta Barbarouses, Ben Old, Sam Sutton and Finn Surman after the club’s historic run to the Isuzu UTE A-League Semi-Finals in 2023-24.

Vanuatu, who already made history before a ball was kicked by reaching their first OFC Men’s Nations Cup final to mark the federation’s 90th anniversary, lost 4-0 to New Zealand in the group stage but led by Central Coast Mariners star Kaltak, they fought right until the very end.

Substitute and Auckland’s scholarship recruit Randall made it 2-0 with seven minutes of regulation remaining before Mata capped the result in the third minute of stoppage time.

Darren Bazeley’s side ended the tournament with a 100% record and without conceding a goal.

“The pitch made it difficult to play a certain way but I thought we were pretty good again,” head coach Bazeley told Fifa+. “We scored an early goal and maybe thought we could go on and do well there from that moment, but we came up against a team full of heart in Vanuatu.

“They played some good football but they didn’t really hurt us – we were in control most of it but we didn’t put them away. They stayed in the game, and that was credit to Vanuatu.”

Bazeley added: “They’ve put in a big shift the last two weeks and managed all these games. We’ve gone through the tournament winning every game and haven’t conceded a goal – potentially the last kick of the game was the closest they came to scoring.

“So overall we did really well.”