SUPER-sub Rusiate Matirerega sparked Fiji to a 3-2 come-from-behind win over Vanuatu in the opening match of the Oceania Football Confederation Under-20 playoffs at Churchill Park in Lautoka yesterday.
The Nadi striker came off the bench early in the second half, replacing a miss firing Tomasi Tuicakau, to provide the much needed firepower upfront for the Kappa-sponsored team.
It was a game of two halves with Vanuatu dominating the first to take a 2-0 lead at the break before Fiji turning the tables to score three goals.
Fiji coach Ravinesh Kumar said it was their ploy to use Matirerega as an impact player in the second half.
He said the players displayed great fighting spirit.
"The message at half time was not to lose hope and keep on fighting," Ravinesh said.
"We scored one goal and then we ended up scoring another two. I'm pleased with the fighting spirit shown by the players. It showed that they were really playing for the nation.
"It was our plan to send Rusiate in the second half as an impact player and he did just what he was supposed to.
"Winning the opening match is a morale booster."
The visitors shocked Fiji in the first spell scoring the opener in the fifth minute through Dalong Damalip. The Vanuatu striker took advantage of Fiji's sloppy defence, controlling a long pass and hitting a left-footer to the roof of the net.
Vanuatu doubled their advantage in the 23rd minute through Zica Manuhi.
Narendra Rao pulled one back for the home team in the 58th minute when his shot from out of the box took a deflection off a Vanuatu defender.
Rusiate Qasevakatini equalised in the 68th minute nodding in Praneel Naidu's free kick.
Matirerega nailed the winner in the 83rd minute after heading in Qasevakatini's cross.
Vanuatu coach Moise Poida expressed disappointment with the result.
He said they did not expect to go down after holding a two goal advantage at halftime.
"I had told the boys that Fiji would use the high ball. We went into defence and were punished by our mistakes," Poida said.
Today is a rest day.
Fiji: Tevita Koroi, Praneel Naidu, Jale Dreloa, Kolinio Sivoki, Vineel Naidu, Narendra Rao, Jope Masibalavu, Ratu Nakalevu, Napolioni Qasevakatini, Tomasi Tuicakau.
Vanuatu: Seloni Iaruel, Raoul Coulon, Jaycen Botleng, Kevin Shem, Jais Malsarani, Barry Mansale, Jackson, Tasso, Jean Kaltack, Bill Nicholls, Dalong Damalip, Zica Manuhi.