The Vodafone Fiji under-20 players turned boys into men when a fiery second-half display helped the side beat New Caledonia 2-0 in their second Oceania Football Confederation U20 Championship match at the ANZ Stadium in Suva last night.
The national side looked much better than they did in the 4-0 win over American Samoa and played a structured attacking football under foggy conditions in Laucala Bay.
Coach Ravinesh Kumar made two changes to his starting line-up bringing in goalkeeper Misiwani Nairube (Shaneel Naidu) and midfielder Nickel Chand (Setareki Hughes).
Those changes worked out well for Kumar as his 3-5-2 attacking formation finally found its footing and worked like a well-oiled machine powered by an effective midfield play.
New Caledonia, which lost its earlier match to Vanuatu (0-1), needed to win against Fiji to remain in contention but took time to settle in the match.
The Jale Dreloa-skippered Fiji was on its toes from the opening whistle and relentlessly pressured the opponent's goalmouth but lacked the firepower to score the goals.
The visitors started causing havoc for the Fijian defence midway in the second spell and had some good chances but Nairube stood tall between the sticks and helped Fiji keep New Caledonia scoreless at the break.
Another series of attacks from the hosts at the start of the second spell paid off when striker Saula Waqa's header inside the box found Samuela Nabenia unmarked, who slammed in the left footer, to give Fiji the 1-0 lead in the 47th minute.
The initial cross came from another Ba man Praneel Naidu, who had an excellent game yesterday and was worthy of the man-of-the-match award.
Frustration started to creep in the New Caledonian defence and despite some crafty work from midfielder Mickael Partodikromo, who had a stint with English club Sheffield United, they failed to penetrate the Fijian defence.
Fiji doubled the advantage in the 65th minute when Antonio Tuivuna scored from the spot kick after Waqa was brought down in the box.
Tuivuna, who leads the goal scorers list on two goals with Nabenia, stepped up and boldly placed it on the left of the diving New Caledonia stopper Yoran Waima to seal the 2-0 win.
Fiji introduced Nadi's Mataiasi Toma (Dreloa) and Labasa's Ashnil Raju (Waqa) later in the second spell and they did well to maintain the momentum set by the team.
Coach Kumar said they talked about their tactical play at the breather and players responded well in the second spell.
"There are four things — win bad and win good and lose bad and lose good. Last game was win bad, today (yesterday) was win good," he said.
New Caledonia assistant coach Matthew Delcroix said they had the opportunities but failed to take their chances.
The win has strengthened Fiji's lead on six points and placed them in a commanding place for the historic FIFA U20 World Cup qualification.
PNG after a disappointing 1-1 draw with American Samoa is placed second on four points followed by Vanuatu on third with four points as well after the nil-draw with Solomon Islands yesterday.
Fiji will play PNG at 2.30pm tomorrow.