Los­ing our grip in Ocea­nia; Need to work our way back to the top

Fiji Sun - - COMMENT - OSEA BOLA Feed­back: os­eab@fi­jisun.com.fj

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.

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