The first match was played at ANZ Stadium in front of a boisterous crowd estimated at around 12,000 and the hosts certainly started the stronger of the two sides, pressing the Phoenix high in defence, with their big forward Osea Vakatalesau using his size and strength to good effect.
In the 24th minute Fiji capitalised on this when Phoenix player captaining his national side, Roy Krishna got the opener. After being played through on goal and one on one with goal keeper Glen Moss, his shot was powerful enough to go under the Phoenix custodian to allow him to easily tap home the rebound.
The roar from the home crowd was deafening and the Fijian’s pace and finish would have pleased Phoenix Head Coach Ernie Merrick who will be looking for him to carry on that form into the A-League in October.
The Fiji goal spurred the Phoenix into action with the Phoenix stepping up their possession and intent.
The midfield trio of Riera, Bonavecia and McGlinchey started to dominate the Fijian midfield and create chances.
Out wide Thomas Doyle was regularly getting forward as well as linking up well with the Phoenix’s two front strikers in Kwabena Appiah-Kubi and Australian triallist Blake Powell.
This culminated in the Phoenix’ first goal in the 40th minute when Ben Sigmund, playing out from defence found Bonavecia in the middle of the park. A clever flick to Appiah-Kubi saw the wide man run at the Fiji defence. Cutting inside, his pass found Bonavecia arriving at pace. A half tackle saw the ball break to the Phoenix midfielder in the box and he had no hesitation of smashing the ball home over top of the Fijian keeper Akuila Mateisuva.
On 62 minutes, Vakatalesau was through on goal and while his shot was on target, Moss got enough hand on it to slow it down so Sigmund could get back and clear the ball. However, the Phoenix’ overwhelming possession had to tell, and eventually it did.
From a Phoenix corner, Tom Doyle found himself in possession outside the box and unleashed a ferocious shot which flashed across the keeper and into the top right hand corner.
Fiji coach Carlos Buzzetti says his side held its own against professional opponents.
“We played with a lot of determination and my players just made me proud. I would say our boys played brilliantly and performed well with the professional goal keeping from Glen Moss denying us from scoring more<' Buzzetti says.
“They matched the Wellington Phoenix in all aspects of the game. All eleven that started as well as the reserves that went in the second half gave their best for the country and did not lack confidence at all.”
Buzzetti’s counterpart Ernie Merrick had nothing but praise for the Fijians’ determination and performance.
“Hats off to Carlos Buzzetti and his players,” Merrick says.
“They kept us busy all evening and we were just lucky to escape. The night belonged to our keper. it was Glen’s night and he did his best to contain Roy and his team mates.
“Roy was again at his very best and I have got to admit that he was very hard to handle. He was dangerous every time he had posssession and the Fijian midfield and defence functioned so well. We needed a good off-season build-up and I am so glad that we chose to come here and play the Fijian team.
“They gave us a tough run for our money and we are surely looking forward to the next game with a lot of enthusiasm and anticipation.”
In the earlier game, the Fiji National U-23 side beat the Phoenix’ Premiers/Academy mix side by the same score line of 2-1.
In a Fiji U-23 team featuring 10 players from the U-20 World Cup played recently in New Zealand and 10 senior U-23 players, it was youngster James McGarry who opened the scoring slightly against the run of play.
An even first half gave way to a more open second half. On 54 minutes, the Phoenix conceded a corner, and from the resulting action Rusiate Matarerega lashed a strike from outside the box which hit the post before rebounding in.
Fiji’s winner came in the 80th minute when lost possession saw Ratu Nakalevu through on goal and his calm finish under Washington Bhongi, who had come on for Lewis Italiano, was enough to win the game for the Fiji U-23s.
The next encounter between Fiji and the Wellington Phoenix will take place on Tuesday at Govind Park in Ba at 6pm.
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