International debuts for FIVE A-Leagues youngsters as All Whites begin OFC title defence in style

New Zealand have begun their OFC Men’s Nations Cup 2024 title defence in convincing fashion, as a squad laden with Isuzu UTE A-League talent eased to a 3-0 win over the Solomon Islands in Port Vila on Tuesday afternoon.

Fourteen players from New Zealand-based A-Leagues clubs featured in the 19-player All Whites squad for Tuesday’s clash in the capital of Vanuatu.

Former Wellington Phoenix keeper Alex Paulsen made his international debut alongside five current Isuzu UTE A-League players; former Phoenix teammates Sam Sutton, Oskar van Hattum, Lukas Kelly-Heald and Fin Conchie all earned their first international caps – as did Auckland FC signing Jesse Randall.

Featured image credit: NZ_Football

Ex-Wellington striker Ben Waine scored a five-minute brace to put New Zealand two goals clear in the first half and Kosta Barbarouses – who captained his nation for the very first time – made it 3-0 before the break.

Phoenix captain Alex Rufer earned player of the match honours as the All Whites eliminated the Solomon Islands from the OFC Nations Cup with the 3-0 win in Vanuatu.

New Zealand will now face the host nation on Friday, with a top-spot finish in Group A on the line. Both the All Whites and Vanuatu are already guaranteed a spot in the semi-finals of the tournament.

Friday’s matchup pits New Zealand against a Vanuatu side captained by Central Coast Mariners star Brian Kaltak, who was named player of the match in the host nation’s tournament opener against the Solomon Islands.

Speaking post-game, Phoenix fullback Sutton spoke of the “surreal feeling” that came with making his All Whites debut.

“It’s a surreal feeling, I’ve been dreaming about this for a while now,” he said.

“A special moment for me, and obviously the boys to get a win. I’m happy with that scoreline and the performance.