- Fiji broke new ground to fall just one step shy of France 2019 qualification
- Success brought a massive jump on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking
- Fiji will have opportunity to shine again at this year’s Pacific Games
Twelve months ago Fiji’s women’s national team had been inactive for several years. Now, on the back of a concerted focus on local development, they have reached their highest position on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking for a decade.
While the Fiji's men’s team were genuine pioneers of football in the Pacific, the same cannot be said of their female counterparts. Until last year Fiji had only competed in two OFC Women’s Nations Cups since the maiden edition of the tournament in 1983. Their most recent Pacific Games campaign in 2015 ended with an underwhelming sixth place among a seven-nation field.
Few, therefore, would have held high hopes for Fiji as they entered OFC preliminary stage qualifying in August for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019™. The Melanesians, however, defied expectations in stunning fashion, eventually going all the way to the continental final.
Making the most of a rare opportunity to play on home soil in Lautoka, Fiji built a perfect platform with a 5-1 opening-day win over neighbours Vanuatu. A tight scoreless draw against Solomon Islands left all to play for with just one nation to progress to the Women’s Nations Cup.
Fiji completed their task with a hard-fought 2-0 win over an American Samoa side boosted by a host of USA-based players. The best, however, was yet to come.
Building upon the achievements of three months prior, Marika Rodu’s charges continued to defy expectations with confident group-stage wins over Cook Islands and Tonga, but it was the semi-final performance that will potentially go down as the greatest in the team’s 35-year history.
Perennial Pacific Games’ champions Papua New Guinea have long been the main challengers to New Zealand’s continental dominance. But Fiji stunned PNG with an inspiring 5-1 comeback victory.
Building for a brighter future
The dream came to a crashing halt in the final as New Zealand routed Fiji to win through to France 2019 and the 2020 Olympic Women’s Football Tournament. The Melanesians, however, had already created history as the only current OFC member other than New Zealand or PNG to feature in the final in what was the 11th edition of the tournament.
“Coming out of the qualification stage we didn’t expect to come all this way,” Rodu said after the Women’s Nations Cup. “Our structure is still young, but to see these girls come out and prove themselves here in the region is quite amazing.
“I was expecting we would reap the benefit of our work at [the 2019] Pacific Games.”
Fiji’s key personnel were acknowledged at the New Caledonia-based Women’s Nations Cup, headlined by Adi Tuwai who was named goalkeeper of the tournament.
Jet-heeled teenage striker Trina Davis was a breakout performer as the tournament’s top-scorer across the two stages of competition. Luisa Tamanitoakula netted six goals in the Nations Women’s Cup – a figure bettered only by New Zealand’s Sarah Gregorius and PNG ace Meagen Gunemba – while Cema Nasau was a regular contributor in attack.
“We imagine that we can only improve football in Fiji, right now it is just only an infant,” said Rodu.
“Those are still baby steps and we expect that to grow with the result that we are bringing home, that should motivate people to work even harder.”
Now ranked 72, Fiji’s all-time high of 69 on the global pecking order is suddenly very much in sight.