OFC Nations Cup Profiles
The current crop of Fijian stars has plenty to live up to as the country has a long and proud history of competing in FIFA World Cup qualifying, a quest that began 11 years earlier than any other Pacific Islands nation in 1981.
While yet to come close to reaching the world’s greatest stage, Fiji have enjoyed numerous memorable moments on the qualifying trail, none more famous than a remarkable 1-0 home win over Australia in 1988. They continued to press their more fancied continental opponents in the ensuing years, only to see their fellow Pacific nations develop and eventually catch up.
The Fijians put in a disappointing showing in the previous OFC Nations Cup four years ago, posting two wins from their six matches to finish third, but did manage a couple of notable feats.
A 2-0 win over New Zealand in the final round proved to be the only defeat suffered by the All Whites across their entire 11-match 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign – a run that includes their three matches in South Africa – while striker Osea Vakatalesau topped the qualifying global scoring chart with 12.
His partnership with pacy Waitakere United star Roy Krishna could prove crucial to Fiji’s hopes in Honiara, as will the form of fellow key figures Simione Tamanisau, Avinesh Suwamy, Taniela Waqa and Alvin Singh.
Those seasoned campaigners have been joined by several members of the U-23 national team that came within a whisker of qualifying for the London Olympic Games as coach Juan Carlos Buzzetti looks to successfully blend youth with experience.
The newcomers should have little trouble adapting to the system as Uruguayan Buzzetti acted as technical advisor to the Olympic squad under coach Imdad Ali, who joins Kamal Swamy in assisting Buzzetti for the Nations Cup.
The trio has a talented squad at its disposal but that group would be even stronger if not for the absence of midfielders Malakai Tiwa and Esava Naqeleca.
Tiwa, a player Buzzetti regards as the best midfielder in the country, was part of the training squad named for the Nations Cup but missed out on a ticket to Honiara due to injury. The strongly-built Naqeleca, who skippered the U-23 side to the brink of the Olympics, has the ability to make a real impact in this tournament but did not make himself available to Buzzetti, robbing Fiji of the services of a real star in the making.
Fiji may have wished for an easier start to the tournament – they will face defending champions New Zealand on Saturday – but talisman Krishna believes there is no reason why they can’t repeat their 2008 heroics and has cause to feel confident after scoring both goals in that memorable victory.
“In football, anything can happen,” Krishna says.
“New Zealand are always a good side and have very good players who are playing overseas but we are looking forward to our game against them.”
Krishna and co will also face Solomon Islands (4 June) and Papua New Guinea (6 June) in Group B as they look to secure an all-important place in the semi-finals.
“We respect all these teams and expect them to be tough,” the fleet-footed forward says.
Fiji look to reassert dominance
OFC Nations Cup Profiles