A year ago Roy Krishna was about as far away from the glitz and
glamour of international football as you could get; tucked away in
the far-flung Fijian district of Labasa.
Plucked from obscurity to join the Fiji U-20 national team for the OFC U-20 Men's Championship in New Zealand with little time to prepare, Krishna was thrown in at the deep end. But his blistering pace and eye for goal soon had fans and opponents taking notice.
Krishna's international youth debut saw him grab a hat-trick in a 7-0 win over Samoa then a brace against Solomon Islands in a 3-0 win before he struck twice against regional giants New Zealand in a tight 3-2 defeat.
"The transition was so big," he told FIFA.com. "I went from playing with kids to playing against adults, and then to international football in a short space of time. It was a big shock. But my coach (Juan Carlos Buzzetti) gave me good advice and told me to keep working hard and to use my talents, especially my pace, because they would open the door to a good career."
Fiji senior team coach Buzzetti is thinks the world of Krishna's abilities. "I have no doubt he can play in Europe," the boss remarked. "He has the right attitude and all the ability. He is small in stature but he is very strong and when he gets hit, he pops straight back up. I think he would be suited to a continental style such as Spain or Italy.
"In South America, Krishna would be in big demand,"
the Uruguayan boss added.
One area of Krishna's game that needed refining straight away was his fiery temper. During the OFC U-20 Championship showdown with New Zealand, Krishna became embroiled in some off-the-ball confrontations.
"It was difficult for me to understand what was happening
because only the week before I was playing schoolboy
football," he said. "Suddenly I was in this big game to
qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup and my emotions were too
high," the player admitted with an air of contrition.
At the South Pacific Games, in his competitive debut with the seniors, Krishna's reputation followed him. Cook Islands set about man-marking the fleet-footed teenager from the opening whistle.
"It was very strange for me. I asked this player, "Are you going to be next to me all match?' and he nodded and said, 'Yes, I have to be or you'll score - sorry.'"
Krishna didn't score but was philosophical rather than disappointed. "The coach said to be patient and play my own game. He was right because the defender got one yellow card and he didn't come near me after that."
Buzzetti is a big fan of Krishna's ability to take on board information and learn quickly. "Roy is a marked man now. If teams wish to mark him there will be a problem because there will be a yellow card every 20 minutes. But he has a reputation now since he scored the winner against New Zealand (in a recent OFC Football for Life friendly international in Lautoka), and teams fear him," Buzzetti said.
The famous goal against New Zealand showed Krishna's ability in all its finery. A long ball from Peni Finau was flicked on by Pita Rabo and Krishna raced clear to execute a deadly finish past the oncoming New Zealand keeper.
Since then expectations of Krishna in his home country have lifted.
"Ooooohhh, yes, the goal! It was an unbelievable feeling for me. I heard Pita yell to me to run past and so I did that. When I broke through I saw the New Zealand keeper lose his balance and I put it away at the far post. But the expectations now are crazy, people expect me to score every time I play."
Krishna is quick to thank his team-mates who have taken it upon themselves to offer advice where possible. One man Krishna respects especially highly is veteran Josaia Bukalidi.
"Bukalidi is good to me," said the youngster. "He has been in the international team a very long time and he was the first person I asked to help if I had a problem. The squad is very close and Peni Finau, the captain, and Osea Vakatalesau are also very good to me."
Krishna is confident Fiji can win the South Pacific Games (SPG) gold medal and earn an OFC Stage Two berth in the next round of FIFA World Cup qualifying. His tournament has already yielded three goals - a hat-trick earned in a 16-0 demolition against Tuvalu - but Fiji will face tougher opponents as the competition rolls on in the shape of Tahiti and New Caledonia, both famed for their uncompromising defences.
One step at a time
"We are not thinking about New Zealand and the World Cup just yet; a lot can happen here because there are so many good teams such as Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Tahiti and Vanuatu, so we must concentrate on what is in front of us first," he said.
Krishna has caught the attention of clubs in the New Zealand Football Championship (NZFC) and both player and national team coach are enthusiastic for the move to happen. "I don't have family in New Zealand - they are in Australia and Canada - so a move there would be strange for me but challenging," Krishna said.
Buzzetti, though, says the Krishna journey won't end in New Zealand. "I think it would be good for Roy to go to New Zealand but to stay no later than April. After that, it would be beneficial to have Roy take his talents to the next level."
"Will he make it?" adds the coach. "I have no doubt he can."