Losing our grip in Oceania; Need to work our way back to the top
2016 is a good year for Fiji Football to build for a better future. The Oceania Football Nations Cup currently being played in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and the Rio Olympics in August provide a good platform. For many years Fiji was the leading light among Pacific Islands nations but it’s not the case anymore. We even defeated former OFC powerhouse Australia 1-0 in a memorable upset in 1988 at Prince Charles Park in Nadi And this was followed by winning the series against the New Zealand All Whites, drawing the first game 1-1 in Suva, winning 2-0 and 1-0 in Lautoka and Ba respectively. In that same year we also won the inaugural Melanesian Cup in Honiara, Solomon Islands, and went on to dominate the competition winning five times before the last Melanesian Cup was played in 2000. In 1991 we won our first gold medal at the Pacific Games (PG) in Lae, Papua New Guinea, and again in Suva at the 2003 PG. But our famous historic win in Nadi was over a quarter of a century ago, and over the past decade Tahiti, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands all have enjoyed moments in the sun, leaving Fiji behind. But the football gods are suddenly smiling on us again, with the past 12 months providing two incredible highs– a maiden appearance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand last year and our inaugural participation in Rio in August. The OFC Nations Cup doubles as the second stage of Russia 2018 qualifying, with six of the eight nations to advance to the home-and-away third round. The eventual winner will tackle a CONMEBOL opponent for a ticket to Russia 2018. Under the experienced hand of former Australian coach Frank Farina, he has received a boost in recent times thanks to new talents coming from the Fiji Football national academies in Suva and Ba which was funded by FIFA. Just under 12 months ago, Fiji not only qualified for the U20 World Cup – our first FIFA tournament – but we defied expectations by securing an impressive 3-0 win over Honduras.
Vodafone Fijian national soccer team vice-captain Alvin Singh agreed Fiji has lost grip in Oceania. “We’re well aware of what Fiji was like back then (in previous years), and we want to bring that back,” Singh said.
“We used to be one of the top nations in the Pacific but now other nations have caught up to us and this Nations Cup is a good chance to get back to the top. “Seeing the U-20 boys and the Olympic team qualify is a motivation for us. The national team hasn’t achieved anything for a long time, and the young teams’ performance is a big motivation.” The Fiji Football Association should be commended for providing the best in terms of preparation for our national teams. The Vodafone Fijian U23 team had already made a tour of Spain and Brazil and OFC Nations Cup has provided them with the much needed competition before Rio. Our reps need to play to the plan mapped by Farina. The onus is on them to deliver. The ball is in their court and they need to make it happen to put us back where we rightly belong in Oceania.