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Fiji Time: 5:08 AM on Thursday 24 April

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Trio's magic touch

Manoj Kumar
Friday, December 21, 2012

DURING the premier division final (Taveuni-Tailevu Naitasiri) at the Courts IDC last October in Ba, two good friends were standing together watching the game.

As I joined them, with a teasing glance at the other, one uttered to me that the previous day's newspaper (The Fiji Times) was sold out in Ba.

"Saab bikh gae raha," quipped Ravuama Madigi. "Star ke photo raha toh bikbe kari," offered Vimal Sami jokingly.

The two former Ba and Fiji reps were in a buoyant mood ahead of the Ba-Suva super premier final.

Madigi was reflecting on the 'Flashback' story I did on Sami.

Forgotten stars

A few weeks back I met Madigi at Ratu Cakobau Park before the Suva-Lautoka National Football League game.

As always, he was his usual calm self saying that he hardly misses the big games.

As for Sami, there wasn't a day that I did not see him at Govind Park during the IDC.

You'd often find him at the beer parlour.

These were the forgotten stars, those who brought Ba, Rewa and the Fiji team many top victories, but none more famous than what happened at Prince Charles Park in Nadi on November 26, 1988.

Star attraction

It was the first leg of the 1990 World Cup qualifier between Fiji and Australia.

Fiji headed into the match as underdogs but with an impressive 10-game unbeaten run against overseas teams.

The Aussies came with some big names — Charlie Yankos (30-time Socceroo captain), Oscar Crino (Argentine-born who also had a brief stint in Cyprus), Graham Arnold (former Socceroos coach and now Central Coast Mariners mentor in the A League), Jeff Olver (regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers Australia has ever produced) and Joe Palatsides (who also played Greek club football).

Defensive strategy

Fiji coach, the late Billy Singh fielded Nasoni Buli (Lautoka) in goal, skipper Pita Dau (Lautoka), Dan Lutumailagi (Nadi), Maretino Nemani (Suva), Lote Delai (Ba) and Abraham Watkins (Nadroga) in defence. In midfield were Ivor Evans (Labasa), Vimal Sami (Ba) and Meli Vuilabasa (Ba).

The strikers were Jone Watisoni (Nadroga) and Simon Peters (Labasa).

Singh used a defensive formation, packing his defence and using mainly one man upfront with the other often dropping back to help the mid-field.

The idea was to frustrate the high flying visitors with water-tight defence and hit them only on the counter-attack.

Ba magic

Madigi came on as a sub for Watisoni. With Topline man Buli and ex-Marist Nemani standing tall in defence, lanky FSC Compound Ba left-back Delai surged forward on a counter attack.

He made about 40 metres on the flank in the 67th minute and then drilled in a knee height cross onto the edge of the box.

His fellow Ba teammates Sami and Madigi were there.

Sami cleverly played a dummy and Madigi smashed home a classy volley to beat Football Federation Australia Hall of Fame member Olver.

Fiji was up 1-0 and the Aussies, including coach Frank Arok, were stunned.

Nervy moments

Try as they might, the Fijian defence stood firm.

Shafique Ali (Nadroga) came on for Dau and saved a certain Socceroos equaliser by clearing off the line with Buli beaten close to full-time.

Fiji won 1-0 and although they lost the return leg in the chill of Newcastle (1-5) a week later, Singh and his men had done enough to etch their names in Fiji FA's record books.

That was only the second time that Fiji beat the Aussies, the first being in 1977 (1-0).

Reactions

Singh was overcome with emotion after the final whistle.

"It feels very good, all my players were heroes today. I can't single anyone out," he said.

He was a proud man and had every right to be after beating a team that had played the likes of Brazil, Yugoslavia, Saudi Arabia Argentina and Russia in the build-up to the cup play-offs.

"This was the biggest upset in my soccer career," was Arok's reaction.

And looking forward to the return match he said: "I am confident we can do it but if we have not scored in the first 20 to 30 minutes, I tell you I am going to be dying. I still can't believe this result."

That's how stunned the Socceroos were that day in front of some 10,000 fans in Nadi.