I WATCHED on FBC TV Fiji under-20 team's come-from behind 3-2 win over Vanuatu in the Oceania Youth Play-offs in Lautoka on Thursday.
Local football fans were left wondering as to why Rusiate Matirerega was not partnered with his Nadi teammate Napolioni Qasevakatini from the start.
Coach Ravinesh Kumar later explained that it was a tactical ploy to use Matirerega as an "impact player". It was a huge sigh of relief that we edged home after being two down at the break.
The fighting spirit was noteworthy, however, so was the jittery start, especially when playing at home.
Going back 33 years, the then Fiji under-20 coaching staff made a similar call, one which they were left to rue.
Fiji needed to beat Papua New Guinea by six clear goals to book a berth in the FIFA U20 World Cup second qualifying round in South America.
That Oceania U20 first qualifying round was played in Suva in December, 1980. Fiji, New Zealand and PNG were in one pool while Tahiti, New Caledonia and Australia were in pool two.
With Australia being host to the 1981 FIFA U20 Youth World Cup, they were already through so the onus was on either New Zealand, Fiji or PNG to top their pool and win an all-expenses paid trip to the second round qualifiers as Tahiti and New Caledonia were both beaten by the Aussies.
So all Fiji or New Zealand had to do was top the group and make the final. A loss against Australia would still have seen them through to the next stage.
Fiji met New Zealand first on Sunday , December, 7, 1980. Led by Abdul Mannan, who would go on to skipper the main national team, the Fijians gave the Junior All Whites a good go. Twice we came from behind to draw 2-all.
NZ coach Alan Jones was full of praise for Rewa's Mannan, Lautoka's Kelemedi "Cheetah" Vosuga and Suva's Tony Kabakoro. The three players marshalled the midfield well to ensure that we had our fair share of possession and did not lose. Fiji's goals were scored by Shamsu Dean and substitute Gajend Naidu.
Two days later New Zealand hammered PNG 5-0 but still our destiny lay in our own hands. We had the advantage of playing PNG last and knew what was needed to qualify for the next stage - a six-goal victory.
The team management, players and fans all believed we could do it. If New Zealand could score five, the least we could do was match them. However, the coaching staff had other ideas.
They decided to rest "Cheetah" in the first spell and that messed up Fiji's rhythm. We were losing 1-0 at half-time. When "Cheetah" came on in the 40th minute, Fiji finally functioned but it was a little too late. We scored four but conceded another and although Fiji won 4-2 we lost out to New Zealand on goal difference.
Ukesh Chand, Lautoka's Naidu, keeper Damien Lum and Mannan, who switched to last-man-down, had a good game in the third place play-off as we beat New Caledonia 4-3 to win bronze. Naidu scored a last-gasp winner.
That was the only Fiji U20 team to go through the Oceania play-off undefeated but still could not make the cut to the second stage or the play-offs. Now with the winner heading straight to the FIFA U20 World Cup, the onus is on our 2013 stars to do us proud.
You may not have looked convincing first-up, but chin up boys, a win is a win. Reorganise, focus, keep believing in yourself, stick to your game plan, keep your shape at game-time and give it your all, for impossible is nothing.