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Our darkest day

Manoj Kumar
Saturday, December 22, 2012

TWO goalkeepers and several big names were used in defence but they could not stop the humiliation that reminds us of Fiji soccer's darkest day so far.

Rewa's Eroni Kubalala played the first-half and conceded seven before Suva's Akuila Ravono let slip six after the break as we were ripped apart 0-13 by New Zealand on their home turf.

Two days earlier, we were thrashed 0-10 by Australia in the land Down Under.

Both games were part of the 1982 World Cup qualifying rounds.

Home and away

Before the away games, Fiji played four matches at home. The Kiwis were first up and beat us 4-0. Indonesia was next and we held them to a scoreless draw.

Then came Taiwan and led by Abdul Mannan, Fiji notched a 2-1 win. However, having lost and drawn one, the writing was on the wall — beat Australia at home or bid farewell to our chances of qualifying for the second stage of the World Cup qualifiers. New Zealand was doing well and had drawn one (3-3) and won one over Australia (2-0).

Fiji was not good enough in Suva as Australia won 4-1. We were out of the running but still had to go abroad to finish our four away games.

Picnic trip

With nothing to play for, reports emerged that players were on "a picnic trip" despite playing draws against Taiwan (0-0) and Indonesia (3-3). There were two big games to be played in 48 hours — against Australia and New Zealand.

The side took on the Aussies and were overawed and overwhelmed 0-10. Fiji coach Wally Hughes, an Englishman, reportedly quit the next day, the eve of the international against New Zealand.

He had a lot to say and was surprised with the Fijians laidback attitude at that level of football.

"If you know Fiji, you know it's a very happy place. The people smile all the time and they play their soccer that way — to enjoy it," he quipped.

"But World Cup soccer is a business and it requires concentration for full 90 minutes."

Power struggle

Hughes, who was brought in for $F500 a week, about the same amount as some of our district coach or coaches are getting now, claimed that there was interference from Fiji team management and that he did not have a free hand in team selection, talks and tactics.

"I wouldn't wish on any coach what I have been through," he said. He claimed that some of his officials were working against him and that the match against the Socceroos was thrown away with one defender responsible for letting in at least seven goals.

He added that this defender went on a drinking spree with one team official after the drubbing at the hand of the Aussies.

Unlucky 13

Fiji went into the final game against New Zealand without a coach and news spread that despite having an assistant coach, who could have stepped in for Hughes, a player (name withheld) was told to take charge.

Even with the likes of Mannan, Mohammed Salim (Rewa), the late Jone Nakosia (Ba), Upendra Choy (Lautoka) Abraham Watkins (Nadroga), Feroz Khan (Ba), Anand Sami (Labasa) and two stoppers Kubalala and Ravono, we were no match for the rampant Kiwis.

Steve Sumner, who received the FIFA Order of Merit in 2010 for his contribution in guiding New Zealand to its first World Cup finals in 1982, scored six goals. We were beaten 13-0, then a World Cup record. A week earlier, our national rugby team had won its first Test overseas since 1972, beating Tonga 10-8 with tries to winger Ratu Tevita Makutu (Nadroga) and stand-off Esala Labalaba (Nadi). But what followed in the round ball game in New Zealand on August 16, 1981 is something all local football followers would love to forget.

It's not easy though as we still stand in the Top 10 of World Football's Top Scoring Internationals (at number 8) although we have in some way redeemed ourselves with 16-0 and 13-0 wins over Tuvalu and American Samoa respectively. Australia's 31-0 win over American Samoa in 2001 is top of the pile.

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