THERE is a four-way fight for the likely two striking positions in the Fiji under-20 football team. Ba's Jone Salauneune, who had a playing stint in New Zealand last year, is the big name upfront but he is feeling a nudge on his shoulders from Nadi duo Napolioni Qasevakatini, Rusiate Matirerega and Nadroga's Tomasi Tuicakau.
National team director Tarunesh Reddy said the competition in the team for the various positions was a good sign. Fiji faces Vanuatu in the opening match of the Oceania U20 play-offs at Churchill Park in Lautoka on Thursday. "The preparation has been good. We had a few build-up matches and the boys are focused," Reddy said. "The players worked according to the training program that was handed out and generally there are no hiccups, no injuries."
The four strikers and Rewa's Setareki Hughes, Ba's Narendra Rao, captain Jale Dreloa, Navua's Kolinio Sivoki have all had some game time in the National Football League's top flight while Ba utility Manasa Nawakula has shone in the under-21 competition. Rao, son of former Ba and Fiji rep Vimal, will be the go-to man in midfield while Dreloa can also play there or in defence. Tuicakau, who has netted several times for Nadroga over the last year, could also drift into midfield if he can't find himself a starting berth upfront.
"We have a very good, well balanced team," Reddy said, adding that their focus now would be on the first game. "They (Vanutau) have retained 11 players from their last under-20 team so they will be strong," he said.
The Ravinesh Kumar-coached side will map out their strategies and formations as per the strength and weaknesses of the opposition. There is free entry to the U20 Oceania Play-offs. The winner of the round-robin Play-offs will represent the region at the bi-annual FIFA U20 World Championship in Turkey in June-July this year. Fiji has never qualified for a FIFA age-group world championship.