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Nadi creates history

Maciu Malo
Saturday, March 08, 2014

MANY may not know this but Nadi was the first team from Fiji to qualify for the regional football club competition.

It was known as the Oceania Club Championship then, now referred to as the Oceania League or O-League competition.

The Jetsetters achieved this feat in 1999 after winning the three-team playoff with Ba and Labasa.

Nadi defeated Labasa 3-0 and Ba 1-0 to win the qualifiers and the right to represent Fiji in the championship, which was played at Prince Charles Park and Churchill Park in Lautoka.

The championship, which also had clubs from Australia, New Zealand, Western Samoa, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga and Solomon Islands competing, served as the OFC qualifiers for 2000 FIFA Club World Championship.

Preliminary rounds

Nadi, then coached by the now Suva mentor Gurjit Singh, was pooled with Venus (Tahiti) and Kiwi (Samoa).

Nadi had the likes of Stewart Bola, Nikola Raoma (brother of former All Blacks 7s star Amasio Raoma), Maika Kasami, Marika Namaqa, Ponipate Naulu, Emosi Baleinuku, Alipate Driu, Waisake Mateterega and goalkeeper Seremaia Tale.

In the opening match, the side drew with top seed Venus 1-1 before thrashing Kiwi 13-0 to book its place in the semis with the Tahitian side.

Australia's South Melbourne and New Zealand's Central United were the other semi-finalists.

The media was banned from covering the semi-finals of the Oceania Club Championship after the then Fiji FA executive, the late Jitendra Maharaj, claimed the tournament was not getting sufficient coverage from the local media.

Finals

In the semi-final, Nadi defeated Central United 1-0 following defender Namaqa's lone goal through a free kick in the opening spell.

The Sabeto man took a low strike from 30 yards to book Nadi's place in the final.

South Melbourne overcame Venus 3-0 in the other semis.

The final between Nadi and South Melbourne was played at the Prince Charles Park in Nadi under soggy conditions.

The Australians defeated Nadi 5-1.

Three of their goals were scored via penalty while Watisoni Voli scored Nadi's consolation goal in the last quarter of the match.

"The rain did spoil our chances but we also missed the services of Viliame and Veresa Toma who went on the Fiji Olympians tour to Singapore," coach Singh told Times Sport.

"The Fiji FA should have left the players behind for Nadi because we had a bigger commitment. We came so close to playing against the world's best.

"We missed their services badly on the bench and I think that was one of the contributing factors towards the loss."

The win earned South Melbourne a place in the World Club Championship where the side played against Manchester United (0-2), Vasco de Gama (0-2) and Necaxa (1-3).

Reflection

Nadi Football president Navneeda Goundar, who was also the president at that time, said the standard of football then was really high.

"When comparing, I think the standard was much better during those days. That team which played in the championship was one of the finest Nadi teams.

"The same team went on to win the Inter District Championship the same year."

Midfielder Kasami said the competition level had grown over the years.

"It was a good experience for me and the other players," Kasami, who is now a sports journalist, said.

Namaqa, now the Nadi Youth team assistant coach, shared similar sentiments.

"We were in camp for a month and the team bonding, combination and the team spirit was all there," the former centre-back said.

"There were players who were working while others like me, who were unemployed, did their own fitness training and skills work during the day.

"We had to sacrifice a lot. No beer for a month, just training. The team was very discipline. We never used to get weekly allowances and the district pride was right up there."

Coach Singh said the team did well with the local players.

Second chance

Nadi has once again qualified for the O-League which will be played next month at Ba's Govind Park and Lautoka's Churchill Park.

The Kamal Swamy-coached side is placed in Group B with defending champions Auckland City, Vanuatu champions Amicale FC and Tahiti champions AS Dragons.

Ba is in Group C with Papua New Guinea champions Hekari United, Tafea FC of Vanuatu and AS Magenta of New Caledonia.

Group A has Kiwi FC of Samoa, AS Pirae of Tahiti, Waitakere United of New Zealand and the winner of the Solomon Islands S-League which will be decided this month.

"O-League is a different level of football altogether where technical knowledge of the game is very important. The coaches need to analyse their opposition properly and read their positives and negatives to work out the game plan," coach Singh said.

"I wish both team the very best and urge the people to support them because they are representing the country."

Nadi has roped in some top players this season including star striker Jone Salauneune and is working on securing the release of Suva hitman Samuela Drudru.

The team has also received interest from two Brazilian players.

"They are very good players and we will confirm something in a couple of days time," president Goundar said.

Former players Kasami and Namaqa while wishing Nadi and Ba well said the players need to show pride for their districts and Fiji.

Thought of the day

In 1999, a Panasonic DVD/Video CD/CD player cost $1195 and a bottle of 700ml VAT 69 whisky was $24.75.


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