9 Nov 2022

Vanuatu captain Kaltak features in FIFA doco alongside Modric, Silva

10:08 am on 9 November 2022
Brian Kaltak ex-Vanuatu captain now in the Mariners A-League.

Photo: glenn pokorny

Vanuatu national football team captain Brian Kaltak is a star of a new documentary alongside the skippers of Brazil and Croatia.

Captains: The Chosen Few follows six national team captains over the course of a year as they lead their nations through qualification for the men's 2022 World Cup.

Kaltak, who recently signed a professional contract with A-League side Central Coast Mariners, is featured alongside Croatian superstar Luka Modrić, Brazil's Thiago Silva, Chelsea and Gabon's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Jamaica's Andre Blake, and Lebanon's Hassan Maatouk.

Yes, five-time winners Brazil and 2018 runners-up Croatia with their array of millionaire stars playing with the best clubs in Europe are the bait that will be used in promotion activities and the magnet for most football fans.

But the 2022 Cup is also about the more than 100 countries that have rarely or never qualified for the world's biggest tournament. And that results in some incredible drama, especially involving lowly-ranked Lebanon and Gabon.

Vanuatu are the lowest-ranked of all teams - at 164 - and have a monumental task in reaching the final of the regional qualifier.

The programme follows the journey to the Middle East and the ultimately doomed campaign for the mainly amateur side.

The first we see of 28-year-old Kaltak and his much younger squad is in episode 2 when the camera captures them praying together as they prepare for the Oceania qualifiers being held in Qatar due to covid-19 restrictions.

In Doha, the squad, many of whom have never travelled outside of the Pacific, are in awe of the splendour and beauty of the very modern Gulf state.

Back in the hotel, Kaltak provides an insight into the sport in his home country.

"When it comes to football in Vanuatu it's still like entertainment," he says.

"Only a few clubs provide contracts for players. I just want all the world to know about the country and the amount of good, talented players we have."

Vanuatu's campaign begins with a 3-1 win over local club side Al-Owaina in a warm-up match.

"My goal is to get these boys to perform at the highest level, to fly the flag of Vanuatu so everyone can see," says the skipper.

Broken hearts and tears

Vanuatu is in a transition process. Many of the emerging stars from the U-20 World Cup in 2017 - in which Vanuatu gave both Germany and Mexico scares - have been lost to the game as they seek greener pastures elsewhere. Only five of that squad have stayed the course to be selected for Qatar.

Unlike the monied stars of the world's most succesful national teams, the Vanuatu players tend to have jobs or are studying.

Unfortunately, on the day of the first scheduled game against Tahiti, covid-19 tests reveal that all but one of the 35 squad and staff members have tested positive and the game is called off. The entire squad must isolate in their hotel for 10 days.

On quarantine day three an online meeting is hosted by head coach Etienne Mermer who drops a bombshell by revealing that the Vanuatu Football Federation has reluctantly decided to withdraw the team from the competition. The emotion among the squad is tangible.

"It was heartbreaking," says Kaltak. "I could see it on their faces. The mood just changed. They were crying and things like that."

The scheduled group games against Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands are therefore also called off.

After isolation, the players get together to train again. They then play Fiji in a friendly match, which fives the players a chance to show what they are made of. Fiji win the game at the Hamad Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha 2-1 but only after Andre Batick had given Vanuatu an early lead.

As expected Brazil and Croatia qualify for Qatar. Vanuatu, Gabon, Lebanon, and Jamaica all now have to look forward to the 2026 competition.

Captains: The Chosen Few is available through governing body FIFA's new digital platform and Netflix.

Photo: Supplied/OFC