Sunny days for islanders

A new league season, a new star for the local game and a 15-year high on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking auger well for the Pacific nation of Fiji. The national team continues to make strides despite their elimination from 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying.

Despite the disappointment of falling out of the race for South Africa 2010, Fiji did enough in the campaign to reach 105 in the global pecking order, just short of their all-time high of 94 achieved in July 1994 during the era of legendary coach Billy Singh.

Football fans of a nation that suffered terrible flooding earlier this year also have a new hero in striker Roy Krishna, who represented Fiji on the world stage with distinction for New Zealand's Waitakere United in the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008.

A star is born
Fiji may have finished behind both New Zealand and New Caledonia in the battle for a berth in the play-off against an Asian nation for South Africa 2010, but the margins were closer than the final table might suggest.

The final stage of qualifying got off to an unfortunate start, with their first match, away to New Zealand, postponed due to a dispute over the presence of goalkeeper Simione Tamanisau. When the two teams eventually took the field, the Fijians slumped to a 2-0 defeat with Ivan Vicelich scoring a fortunate opener and Kiwi sharpshooter Shane Smeltz grabbing a late sealer.

The real crunch though came in the home match with New Caledonia when the visitors equalised two minutes from time to deny the Fijians a crucial win. A 2-0 reversal late in the campaign over New Zealand reinvigorated spirits and confirmed a rising star in the 21-year-old Krishna. The youngster who reaped a remarkable 31-goal haul in his last season with Labasa, grabbing both goals against the Kiwis to take his tally to six in the campaign. The future of the national team's forward line, consisting of Krishna and Osea Vakatalesau, who leads the pack with 12 goals in South Africa 2010 qualifiers, looks to be in bright and talented hands.

Domestic bliss
On the domestic front, Ba will be looking for their ninth title in the last decade, with the remarkable sequence of wins spoiled only by Labasa's shock victory two years ago. The serial champions certainly started in typically dominant fashion last weekend with an opening day 4-0 whitewash of Tavua.

Ba will also be looking to claim early season silverware this weekend in the second leg of the Champion versus Champion Series against Lautoka, and will start favourites having won the first leg thanks to a goals from the prolific Vakatalesau. The township of Ba was severely affected by disastrous floods in January, as was Nadi with the city's Prince Charles Park, home of Lautoka, still undergoing significant repairs caused by the natural disaster, which caused a delay in the season's fixtures.

It will be a case of all to play for over the coming three months with the winner of the first round to represent Fiji in the next edition of the OFC O-League. Ba still have hopes of winning their way to this year's final and repeat the achievement of 2007, when they reached the regional pinnacle for club teams. On that occasion they came agonisingly close to claiming a first for a Pacific Islands club side only losing the final on away goals to Waitakere United.

A 3-1 loss last month to Hekari Souths of Papua New Guinea in front of 5,000 shocked fans means that Ba must defeat Solomon Islands' Koloale FC later this month to have any chance of progressing. However, should they achieve the feat, a Fijian shootout at the premier Oceania club showpiece featuring Waitakere's Krishna and Ba's Vakatalesau is a genuine and appealing possibility.