Fiji 0, Uzbekistan 3
Northland Events Centre, Whangarei, June 7 2015
I couldn’t resist a trip to Whangarei yesterday. How could I? The chance to see the fairy tale team of this Under 20 World Cup potentially achieve their fairy tale ending by progressing to the round of 16 was too good to turn down. As it was for a lot of people. I was, more by accident than design, part of a long procession of Fijian fans, flags flying out their car windows, who made their way up State Highway 1 in anticipation of their team making history.
There is so much to like about this Fijian team. Their underdog status, their beautiful island home, and their well respected Aussie coach in Frank Farina, to name just three. Plus, there’s the satisfying fact that, without wanting to take anything away from their qualifying campaign, they are here in part as an added benefit of New Zealand hosting the event. A nice little piece of involuntary benevolence on our part towards one of our Pacific cousins.
They may have started the tournament shakily, falling to a heavy defeat against Germany, but boy did they bounce back in style! In defeating Honduras they also beat New Zealand, by 21 hours, to the honour of becoming the first current Oceania men’s side to win at this level.
But the thing that really won people over to this Fijian team is their passion.
What kind of passion you might ask? Well I could write about it at length, but it’s not something that is easily conveyed anywhere near adequately enough in cold, detached, black and white words on paper (or computer screen). No, this is one of those ‘a picture is worth 1,000 words’ kinds of things:
And it wasn’t just for show either. They really brought that kind of raw unbridled emotion into their game and played with genuine vigour and determination.
Sadly it wasn’t enough. Uzbekistan might have fallen to Honduras, the team Fiji beat in their last outing, but they were able to lift their performance on this occasion and claim the Round of 16 place that was on offer. And they deserved their win. But still, the smattering of a few dozen Uzbeks in the 5,000 strong crowd would have been amongst the distinct minority present on the day, and in living rooms all over New Zealand, who were happy about this result.
It was a real pity. But the players, while probably quite devastated by the outcome of this one game, will only look back with pride on their achievements at this tournament.
The chorus of the Fijian National Anthem (English translation of the Fijian language version), ‘God Bless Fiji’, begins “Let Fiji live on and progress onwards”. Not sure if this is the particular bit the team were belting out so loudly and with such gusto as pictured above, but it would be a good story if it was. Either way, there can be little doubt that it rings true.
In a perfect world these lads will return home as national heroes on a par with their hallowed rugby sevens team. But whether they do or not, the best possible legacy of all this would be for us to one day see these players again, applying the experience they gained here in 2015, at a full World Cup. That would be a blessing indeed.
And if that is not what this Under 20 World Cup is irrefutably all about, then it jolly well should be!
Categories: FIFA New Zealand 2015
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.