Almost a year ago to the day, Iosefo Verevou played a key role in one of the most memorable moments in the history of Fijian football. Frank Farina’s men were taking part in their opening match of the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, a competition at which they were making their debut, when in the 48th minute Setareki Hughes delivered the perfect cross to Verevou, who coolly nodded home to score the first-ever Fijian goal at a FIFA-run tournament.
“Simply put, that goal changed my life,” recounted the sprightly forward to FIFA.com. “My country has never been at the forefront of the football world, but that goal turned the spotlight on us, if only for a little while. It’s a great honour to have been at the origin of that. And personally speaking, it gave me a lot of confidence. How many players can look back and say that they scored at a major international tournament?”
The Rewa FC striker's performance was all the more remarkable given the opponents that Fiji had to face that day: Germany. As fate would have it, they will now cross swords with the formidable European side once again in their third and final group match at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 on Wednesday in Belo Horizonte.
“Rather than fear, I feel joy at the idea of playing against the Germans again,” said Verevou. “First off, because they bring back some fantastic memories, and second, simply because they’re a great team, and I’m not sure if I’ll get a chance to play against them again. Our chances are pretty slim, but what’s incredible about football is that anything can happen in one match.”
Living a dream Fiji’s previous fixture proves that point, as few observers of Olympic football would have predicted that the OFC outsiders would be leading Mexico, gold medallists at London 2012, at half-time during their second group-phase match at Rio 2016. Similarly, few would have envisaged the Fijians going into the break only 1-0 down to Korea Republic – who earned a bronze medal in London – in their opening encounter in Salvador.
Unfortunately, in both games, the second half proved to be a bridge too far for Fiji. “It’s experience that makes the difference,” said Verevou. “We prepared extremely well for this competition, and even though I think the gulf between us and the major football nations has reduced a little bit, there’s still a pretty substantial gap. It’s the same kind of gap that you find between amateur and professional football.”
Thankfully for Fiji, that disparity has not had a negative impact on the team’s morale. Despite suffering two heavy defeats (8-0 and 5-1), their Olympic dream remains unspoiled. “Being here in Brazil for the Olympic Games is truly incredible,” said the dynamic No13. “Every day I have to pinch myself. I know that I’m really lucky to be here and to have the chance of competing against some of the best teams in the world.”
Taking into account the progress made by Fijian football in recent times, it is not unthinkable that Verevou and Co could lock horns with international heavyweights like Germany again in the near future. As for their upcoming clash on Wednesday, could the Rewa-born front man somehow find the net once more?
“I can’t promise to score another goal against Germany; that’s impossible,” he noted. “That said, I swear that I’ll give 100 per cent, put in the best possible performance, and do my country proud.”