With New Zealand not attending the OFC U-19 Championship in Fiji in 2014 the door was open for a new champion to emerge.
New Zealand were due to host the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, meaning they automatically qualified for the global tournament and didn’t play in the OFC qualifying event in Fiji.
Six teams lined up in Fiji with American Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia joining the hosts. New Zealand won the previous edition in 2013.
Prior to 2014, only Tahiti, Australia and New Zealand had won the OFC U-19 Championship; the tournament was originally known as the OFC U-20 Championship, but the age limit was changed in 2014 to fit into the U-20 World Cup cycle. The current name was adopted in 2018.
OFC’s second and final spot at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup was up for grabs in Fiji.
The tournament was played in a round-robin format and the hosts rose to the occasion.
Fiji’s youngsters went through the tournament unbeaten as they racked up four wins and a draw to earn their spot at the event in New Zealand.
They opened the OFC U-19 Championship with a 4-0 win over American Samoa which set the tone for their campaign as they went on to beat New Caledonia 2-0 and Papua New Guinea 3-0.
Their 2-2 draw with Vanuatu – who finished second – was their only slight blemish in an otherwise perfect copybook. Fiji capped their triumph with a 2-1 win over the Solomon Islands in their final outing as they booked their place at the U-20 World Cup.
Fiji coach Ravinesh Kumar said it marked a great moment for the game in Fiji.
“This is not only a victory for Fiji Football Association but the whole country. We have been waiting to play in a FIFA world event for a long time and now we have managed to do so for the very first time in 76 years,” he said.
The 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup was a positive one for Oceania.
New Zealand thrilled their home fans as they advanced to the Round of 16 before being edged 2-1 by Portugal; the highlight of their campaign was a 5-1 win over Myanmar in pool play.
New Zealand U-20 coach Darren Bazeley said despite losing to Portugal his team asserted themselves well.
“It’s disappointing for us. We fought really hard and had good possession at times. It was a good match,” Bazeley said.
“We went 1-0 down but the boys kept themselves in the game and in the second half we came out, scored our goal and had a period of ten or 15 minutes where we played with a lot of energy and the fans really got behind us. I thought we would make it to extra time and attack them there, but they scored a good goal at the end.”
While Fiji finished at the bottom of Group F, they provided one of the major upsets at the tournament when they beat Honduras 3-0 in Christchurch.
Fiji U-20 coach Frank Farina, who had previously coached the Australian and Papua New Guinea national teams, was delighted with their unlikely victory.
“We planned to press hard from the start and that is exactly what we did. This allowed us to take chances and frustrate our opponents,” he said.
“We are known for being strong in defence and have proven we can also score. Our boys have realised that they can play at this level and that they do deserve to be here.”
The win left Fiji with a chance to qualify for the Round of 16 but they went down 3-0 to Uzbekistan in their final pool game.
Fiji’s victory at the U-19 Championship in 2014 remains their only OFC age-group title.