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Four reds in rout

Rashneel Kumar
Saturday, February 22, 2014

WHEN it comes to indiscipline at national level, nothing beats the record set by the Fiji under-23 football team in the Olympic Games qualifying match against Australia in 1991.

Four red cards in a match is one of the worst performances in terms of discipline displayed by a national side.

The Emmanuel Manu-coached Fiji U23 eventually succumbed to the Socceroos 0-7 in Melbourne.

The game and cards

It was Fiji's first match in the OFC Olympic Qualifiers (26/5/91).

With star players like Lorima Batirerega, Vishwa Nair, Jope Lomu, Iosefo Vosaboto and Bakalevu Moceimereke, the side looked in good shape to secure its spot in the 1992 Olympic Games.

Australia was riding high with wins over Papua New Guinea 4-0 and New Zealand 2-0.

Just 80 seconds into the match, former Labasa marksman Jope Lomu, who hails from Dogotuki, was booked for a foul on the man of the match Milan Blagojevic.

Three minutes later, former Suva defender Sheik Saheb was red carded for punching Tony Vidmar, who now coaches the Australian U17 team.

Despite two men down, Fiji held the Australians for more than 30 minutes before conceding the opening goal.

In the 58th minute, Lomu was booked again for another foul and subsequently sent off.

Goalkeeper Vosaboto "accidentally" punched an Australian striker in the 71st minute of the play while trying to clear the ball in an aerial battle and was sent off following that incident.

Fiji's day of woes continued in the 88th minute when utility Josefa Masilagi fouled former Crystal Palace player Carl Veart and was the fourth Fiji player sent off.

Replacement Fiji goalkeeper Netava Tubuitamana was spared by New Zealand referee Ron Gallon for a crude tackle on Australian midfielder Steve Refenes in the final minute of the play.

Australia went on to win the qualification and played in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona where they finished fourth overall.

Reactions

Australian coach Eddie Thomson, in a post match interview, said he was worried about the players' safety throughout the 90 minutes.

Fiji coach Manu said: "I can't criticise anyone today. They all played well. We stood toe-to-toe with them although we were one man down in the first spell".

Flashback

Fiji Football Association CEO Bob Kumar was the manager of that team.

"It was probably one of those matches where we recorded the highest number of red cards," Kumar told Times Sport yesterday.

"The other teams knew our weakness. They were intimidating, knowing our boys would react."

Striker Moceimereke remembers the match vividly and said they were up against the odds.

"It was like professionals versus amateurs. They had all top players in the team who went on to play for top clubs in England," the former Lautoka rep said.

"Their goalkeeper Mark Bosnich went on to play for top English Premier League clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Aston Villa.

"We lost our cool very easily and they knew this well. They pinched and provoked us and we were mentally weak so we committed the fouls.

"Playing against a professional outfit like them with less players and losing by seven goals wasn't that bad.

"We proved a point in the return match where we lost by three goals in Nadi."

The improvement

Kumar said the discipline factor in the national team had improved since that 1991 disaster.

"There has been a tremendous improvement. We have managed to rectify the problem."

Moceimereke shared similar sentiments, adding the players now are trained on mental toughness along with other facets of play.

"The players now come through grassroots development and undergo training to control their nerves.

"We didn't go through that during our time.

"We were physically strong but mentally weak. If only we could have learnt to control our temper, we could have achieved much more for Fiji soccer during our time."

Food for thought

In 1991, the price for one kilogram of lamb chops was $2.85 and a carton of Fiji Bitter cost only $15!





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