The road to New Zealand
With New Zealand hosting the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Oceania’s aspirants entered the May 2014 qualifiers in the knowledge they had an unusually elevated opportunity to win through to the global showpiece. Fiji produced a near-perfect campaign in the six-nation event on home soil, dropping just two points in a 2-2 draw against nearest challengers Vanuatu. Earlier they enjoyed comfortable victories over American Samoa (4-0), New Caledonia (2-0) and Papua New Guinea (3-0), before their nervy final-day 2-1 win over Solomon Islands created history.
Strength and style
The stereotype traditionally associated with Fiji is one of power mixed with typical Pacific flair and spirit. The current crop are, for numerous reasons, evidence that times are changing. The Fiji squad have enjoyed considerable preparation time and international exposure over recent years, perhaps more so than other Fijian teams historically. Ten players in the qualifiers were graduates of either the 2013 U-20 or U-17 teams, while the side spent a lengthy period together at the National Football Academy in Ba. The team are thus tactically aware and methodical in their approach. The squad primarily consists of players based in the Fijian national league, while a handful ply their trade in New Zealand.
A former player with Lautoka, Ravinesh Kumar is a highly respected local coach who assumed the reins of the national team in time for the 2013 Oceania U-20 Championship, leading Fiji to second place. Fiji famously went one better in 2014 under Kumar, who will be supported at New Zealand 2015 by Frank Farina with the former Australia coach to act as the team’s Technical Adviser.
FIFA U-20 World Cup record
- While Fiji have a long and proud football tradition in Oceania, the current squad will be creating history as the first to represent the nation at a FIFA tournament.
- Despite a lengthier football history than any of their Pacific Islands rivals, Fiji were had been unable to break the continental hegemony maintained by Australia and New Zealand, with Tahiti the only Oceanian nation outside the duo to previously feature at a FIFA U-20 World Cup (2009).
What they said
"We have been waiting to play in a FIFA event for a long time, and now we have managed to do so for the very first time in 76 years. This is not only a victory for the Fiji Football Federation, but for the whole country."
Ravinesh Kumar, Fiji coach