It is not often that a Fijian footballer can proudly claim to be a world-beater, but the Pacific nation’s Osea Vakatalesau can do just that. Along with Burkina Faso goal ace Moumouni Dagano, the giant Fijian hit the back of the net 12 times to top the global scoring charts for 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying.
The full time whistle in Montevideo last week marked Uruguay as the 32nd and final team to reach South Africa 2010, more than 800 days on from the opening contest. New Caledonia captain and midfielder Pierre Wajoka claimed the honour of the first goal in the global campaign for South Africa 2010, stroking home a ninth-minute penalty against Tahiti way back in August 2007.
Exactly 200 nations competed in FIFA World Cup preliminary competition tallying up some 2,344 goals across 853 matches. It was Vakatalesau and Dagano though who topped the tree on an individual basis with the Fijian accumulating his dozen strikes across ten matches compared to 12 outings for the Burkinabe striker.
Fijian footballing royalty
To say Vakatalesau has impressive Fijian football bloodlines would be a gross understatement. Brother Peni Finau captained the national team in their quest to reach South Africa 2010, while cousin Esala Masi is widely regarded as Fiji’s most famous export having played professionally for many years in Australia. Given that Masi is the nation’s all-time top-scorer, then Vakatalesau’s prolific ability in front of goal is perhaps no surprise.
What was a surprise for Vakatalesau, as Fiji endeavoured to fulfil their dream of reaching South Africa, was that his goal bounty brought such an unusual honour. “I was shocked to hear the news,” said Vakatalesau from Ba, a small regional football hotbed in Fiji. “My mum told me to go and get the newspaper, and when I read the news I was really shocked.”
Despite the personal satisfaction, which Vakatalesau describes as making him “happy and proud”, the 1.92 metre targetman is disappointed that his nation will not be in South Africa. “I had dreams of qualifying for the World Cup, with no Australia this time, but we were unlucky,” he says. The Fijians were ultimately eliminated in the final group stage after finishing behind New Zealand and New Caledonia.
The 23-year-old Vakatalesau formed a deadly partnership with highly-rated youngster Roy Krishna with the latter also contributing six goals to finish fifth in the Oceania goalscoring stakes. The speedy Krishna who played for New Zealand’s Waitakere United in the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup providing a perfect foil for Vakatalesau, with the former scoring a brace in a 2-0 win over New Zealand. That final match, which Vakatalesau rates as a highlight of the campaign, providing a small taste of a fruitful partnership that has much potential.
Alongside Vakatalesau sits Moumouni Dagano whose 12 goals played a major role in the Etalons finishing second behind only Côte d'Ivoire in their group to ensure their participation in the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Dagano pipped Cameroonian legend Samuel E’too who contributed nine goals for the Indomitable Lions, while Mali’s Frederic Kanoute and Benin’s Razak Omotoyossi bagged eight apiece.
Dagano is currently with Qatar club Al Khor but has previous experience playing in Belgium and France, and says he would love another chance to play in Europe. "I am very happy to lead the goalscoring chart ahead of all the world class strikers all over Africa," said Dagano. "My ambition is to play one day in England because their football is close to my own game. Hopefully, the African Nations Cup will give me that opportunity."
Hot on the heels of Vakatalesau and Dagano were Chilean ace-marksman Humberto Suazo and Greek goal-sneak Theofanis Gekas, both with a ten-goal contribution to their respective nation’s successful push for South Africa 2010. The Greek edged out England’s Wayne Rooney and Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Edin Dzeko, who both scored nine goals. Suazo finished ahead of Brazil’s Luis Fabiano who tallied nine goals, and Bolivia’s Joaquin Botero, who scored a hat-trick in his nation’s famous 6-1 win against Argentina earlier this year, as part of his eight-goal return.
In Asia, Thailand’s Sarayoot Chaikamdee and Uzbek legend Maksim Shatskikh were the continent’s top marksman with eight goals each, ahead of Kuwait’s Ahmad Al Azemi and United Arab Emirates midfield genius Ismail Matar who both scored six goals. Finally in the North, Central America and Caribbean qualifying zone El Salvador’s Rudis Corrales finished top on eight goals, one ahead of Honduran Carlos Pavon and Jamaica’s Luton Shelton.