Olympic Football Tournaments Rio 2016 - Men

Olympic Football Tournaments Rio 2016 - Men

4 August - 20 August 2016

Olympic Football Tournaments 2016 - Men

Fiji fairytale continues with Rio ticket

Fiji celebrate qualifying for Rio 2016 (Credit: OFC)
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It will be a maiden Men's Olympic Football Tournament appearance for Fiji​ after a tense and gripping final of Olympic Qualifying in Oceania. The finale, played under the floodlights at Port Moresby's Sir Hubert Murray Stadium, went all the way to penalties after a goalless 120 minutes with Jale Dreloa, captain of Fiji's recent historic FIFA U-20 World Cup campaign, stepping up to convert the crucial spot kick. 

FIFA.com takes a look back at the qualifying tournament in Papua New Guinea.

Solomon Islands were eliminated from the group stage of the 2015 Pacific Games, finishing bottom of Group B after defeats to New Zealand, New Caledonia and the hosts. The four remaining eligible teams progressed to the knockout stages, with Fiji up against Papua New Guinea and New Zealand drawn against Vanuatu.

The opening semi-final, played in front of a raucous and partisan crowd in Port Moresby, saw the hosts take the game to the slightly-favoured Fijians. However, their early pressure was undone by Napolioni Qasevakatini, who snuck through to score the opening goal. 

To match the spirits of the home crowd, the sun disappeared and a torrential downpour ensued. Tommy Semmy then gave the Port Moresby faithful something to cheer, converting a penalty to level matters. The crowd began to believe, but their spirits were dampened once more, with a goal late in the half to mirror the opener, as Qasevakatini pounced on the stroke of half-time to give Fiji the lead once more. The lethal finishing of the Fijian forward continued, as he completed his hat-trick after the interval, drilling home from just outside the penalty area to see his side into the final.

Their opponents in the finale seemed set to be New Zealand, looking to reach their third consecutive Men's Olympic Football Tournament. The Kiwis saw off Vanuatu with goals from Monty Patterson and Bill Tuiloma in a 2-0 victory, which was then overturned by Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) after an appeal by Vanuatu.

"The Committee has found that New Zealand fielded an ineligible player in the match against Vanuatu held on 10 July 2015," an OFC statement read. "The Committee has declared that New Zealand has forfeited the match against Vanuatu with a 0-3 result, and therefore Vanuatu proceed to the final match of the OFC Olympic Qualifying Tournament against Fiji."

Minnows battle in Port MoresbyThe decision meant it would be Vanuatu and Fiji - their senior sides ranked 197th and 199th respectively in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking - battling it out for a ticket to Rio. Both sets of players seemed to be well aware that history would be made with a win, and the final was a scrappy and nervy affair. Neither side were able to break the deadlock in the 90 minutes, despite Fiji often taking the initiative and Vanuatu breaking swiftly on the counter-attack, and the final went to extra time.

Vanuatu goalkeeper Selonie Iaruel was kept busy throughout the final, and made one particularly outstanding save to deny semi-final hero Qasevakatini in extra time. He managed to keep the Fijians out as they pressed for a winner in the added 30 minutes, meaning penalties would decide which team would start to make their plans for Brazil.

After the first two penalties were scored, Junia Vava saw his spot kick saved by Tevita Koroi, before Iaruel denied Qasevakatini once more. Bong Kalo and Garish Prasad then hit the woodwork before the next four penalties were scored to take the shoot-out to sudden death. Vanuatu defender Remy Kalsarap sent his spot kick wide and Dreloa stepped up to send his side to Rio. The squad and staff sprinted from the bench to congratulate the No4, with a Fijian flag enthusiastically waved in celebration.

The victory marks a remarkable few months for Fijian football. Almost half of the squad for the final featured in Fiji's historic journey to New Zealand for the U-20 World Cup last month. What chance of another history-making win, like their 3-0 victory against Honduras, next year in Rio? Fiji's fantastic footballing journey continues. Next stop Brazil.

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