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Crucial game

Rashneel Kumar
Friday, May 30, 2014

THEY fought until the end.

At times, attacked at pace and directness, working brilliantly from the flanks to strike at the opponent's goalmouth.

And there were also times when they were forced to defend desperately against the blitz of the opposition.

For 90 minutes, they fought tooth and nail but it wasn't enough to win the battle.

Now the Vodafone Fiji under-20 football side needs another 90 minutes, which will be their final chance, to create the history in the Oceania Football Confederation U20 Championship.

Fiji missed an early opportunity to clinch the championship after drawing with Vanuatu 2-2 in its second last match at the ANZ Stadium in Suva last night.

The Ravinesh Kumar-coached side needed a win to clinch the championship and the momentous FIFA U20 World Cup qualification.

Fiji and Vanuatu match, which was billed as the decider, lived up to its expectation and kept the 2000-plus crowd excited under chilly conditions in Laucala Bay.

Vanuatu defended the foreshore end of the stadium and with breeze on its side, managed to sneak in with the opener in the 22nd minute of the play.

Impressive Justin Koka's well timed cross found deadly Bong Kalo unmarked in the Fiji box and the latter made no mistake slamming the ball to the back of the net to take the early lead.

The visitors with its 4-2-3-1 formation looked better on Fiji's 3-5-2 attacking pattern and dictated the play for a while before the host got the equaliser.

It came from a set piece play and it was again Praneel Naidu who made the initial cross after cleverly beating two defenders.

Lanky Saula Waqa climbed high and headed the ball to nippy Nickel Chand whose powerful header in the 25th minute sent the local crowd into a frenzy.

The goal gave the confidence Fiji needed and another set piece play orchestrated by midfielder Narend Rao found skipper Jale Dreloa who headed in the lead in the 40th minute.

Fiji led 2-1 at the break.

Vanuatu came firing in the second spell and their relentless effort paid off in the 57th minute when goalkeeper Misiwani Nairube mistimed Kerry Iawak's right footer which landed into the left-hand corner of the net for a 2-2 score.

Both teams had opportunities to get more goals with Vanuatu controlling the remainder of the match but some brave defending from Fiji resulted in the stalemate.

"Any team gets under pressure in this kind of situation. A great performance from both teams," coach Kumar said.

"The last game will now go down the wire. Solomon Islands knows if Fiji wins then Fiji will qualify for the World Cup and they will give us a good run on Saturday."

Vanuatu assistant coach Anthony Pisano rued at the missed opportunities but remained optimistic of their chances.

Vanuatu on eight points faces a must win over Papua New Guinea tomorrow at 5pm followed by the Fiji versus Solomon Islands match at 7.30pm.

Fiji leads the tally on 10 points. In the other matches yesterday, Solomon Islands beat American Samoa 5-0 while New Caledonia overcame PNG 5-1.





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