Long-suffering football fans in Fiji are unlikely to forget the date of 4 June 2015 in a hurry. In recording a historic 3-0 success over Honduras in the group stage of New Zealand 2015, the Pacific islanders not only secured their first-ever victory in a FIFA-run tournament, but gave themselves an unexpected chance of reaching the Round of 16.
One glance into the changing room at Christchurch Stadium after the Group F clash was sufficient to understand the magnitude of the diminutive nation’s performance. Seemingly unable to believe what they had just accomplished, the Fijians huddled around their captain, Jale Dreloa, crying tears of joy, singing and dancing.
From their arrival in New Zealand, Frank Farina’s men had already managed to win a place in the heart of local supporters. This impressive triumph, during which they stoutly defended from start to finish, only served to cement their popularity.
The result is even more astounding given the heavy 8-1 loss to Germany that the OFC representatives suffered in their opening match. “We’re incredibly proud of this win – it’s the realisation of an amazing dream,” exclaimed a visibly emotional Misiwane Nairube to FIFA.com. “We really didn’t expect it. Tonight, we left the pitch as winners, having given great pleasure to all the people watching us back home,” continued the delighted goalkeeper.
Nairube was instrumental in the victory, keeping the Central Americans’ attack at bay for the entire 90 minutes, especially in the second half, during which he pulled off several important saves. “I had a good game, but that’s just a side note,” said the 19-year-old custodian. “The team is the most important thing. Today, we did something extraordinary. We’re going to continue to give 100 per cent in our next match against Uzbekistan. Can we pull off another upset? Who knows... but we’re certainly going to try.”
This is a wonderful position for us to be in and we have everything to play for. We’ve got nothing to lose.
Frank Farina, Fiji’s technical director, was equally astounded by the result, and it was only at the final whistle that he appeared to grasp the scope of his young charges’ achievement. The Australian, who was capped 37 times for his country and spent seven years coaching the Socceroos after a long and successful club career in Europe, could not conceal his happiness in the dressing room.
“We had planned to press them high up the pitch right from the start, and that’s how it played out – that enabled us to create a few opportunities and frustrate our opponents,” said the former Strasbourg and Club Brugge striker.
“We’ve got a reputation for defensive football, but we showed that we know where the goal is. Our players realised they could compete at this level, and that they deserved to be here. This is a wonderful position for us to be in and we have everything to play for. We’ve got nothing to lose and we’ll fight to go through as we improve from each game and learn from this incredible experience.”
After Fiji’s stunning result in Christchurch, football observers around the world will be watching with interest to see if their intriguing adventures can extend beyond the group phase.