Fiji are one of the leading island-based football nations in the Oceania Football Confederation. Witness a series of outstanding displays in qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, where they finished second in their group behind regional big guns Australia.
The Fijians won all their qualifying fixtures at the Coffs Harbour International Sports Stadium in April 2001 with just one exception, a 2-0 defeat against Australia which spelled elimination from the tournament, as only the group winners progressed. But the islanders show an impressive amount of skill in games such as the emphatic 13-0 defeat of American Samoa.
A temporary setback was to follow as the islanders slipped to second behind Tahiti in their 2002 Nations Cup group, but they bounced back to claim the 2003 South Pacific Games title with a 2-0 victory over New Caledonia in front of a 10,000-strong crowd at the National Stadium in Suva.
Fiji received a boost from FIFA's GOAL programme in February 2003 with the launch of the Dr. M.S. Sahu Khan Football Academy, a facility boasting two international-class pitches, a football academy, modern offices and a residential block.
Early evidence of the stimulus provided by the new Academy came in the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ preliminary qualifying group, where Tony Buesnel's men finished just a point off Vanuatu in second and impressed observers with a formidable 11-0 demolition of American Samoa.
The runners-up spot sealed a trip to Adelaide where Australia and New Zealand lay in wait for the island states. Fiji proved one of the surprise packages of the tournament, retaining an outside chance of joining Australia in the final play-off until the last match day. However, Buesnel's men fell to New Zealand in the decisive clash and had to make do with a fourth-place finish.
Fiji are red hot favourites to clinch a XIII South Pacific Games - Samoa 2007 gold medal and a berth at the 2nd phase of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers. Fiji's performances at age group level and in club competition at home and abroad suggest the gap has closed between New Zealand and the Melanesian nation.
New Fiji coach Juan Carlos Buzzetti performed a major miracle when his Vanuatu side defeated New Zealand 4-2 in the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers and Fiji fans expectations of a similarly exciting campaign are high.
With a raft of talented players at Buzzetti's disposal such as Osea Vakatalesau, Roy Krishna and Esala Masi, to name but a few, the question of who is top dog in Oceania may not be so clear cut.