National Team - Lions ● Sep 09, 2018
Opponent Spotlight: Fiji
SINGAPORE, 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 – Ahead of Singapore’s friendly against Fiji this Tuesday, 11 September, we take a look at our opponents…
FIFA Ranking: 165
Confederation: Oceania Football Confederation (OFC)
Nickname: Bula Boys
Head Coach: Christophe Gamel
SET IN THE SEA The second island nation we are playing after our 1-1 draw with Mauritius on Friday, Fiji is located in the South Pacific Ocean. It is an archipelago comprising 332 islands, with 70 per cent of the 921,000-strong population living on the island of Viti Levu. English and Fijian are the official languages, while Hindustani is also spoken.
FRENCH ROOTS Gamel took over the reins of Fiji at at the start of 2017, having coached Qatar at Under-17 and U-19 level. The 46-year-old Frenchman played at semi-professional level in France and Italy, while he came into the job on the back of an assistant coaching role with Paris Saint-Germain’s Women’s Team.
Tickets are available from fas.org.sg/tickets and onsite on match-days. Fans are urged to buy their tickets early online to avoid the queues on match-day.
Gamel has overseen 13 matches since, winning three of those and drawing six. They are no strangers to Southeast Asian opponents, drawing 0-0 with Indonesia last September, and losing 3-2 in March and 1-0 in July to Philippines and Malaysia respectively this year. This will be their first meeting against Singapore.
He told footballoceania.com: “I am involved with all national teams and I don’t forget the women’s National Team, because the future also belongs to the women. I will also develop youth national teams to prepare for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.”
DIFFICULTIES Twenty-eight players were called up to an initial training in the final week of August, but Gamel noted that many of them were overweight. He also pointed out their “short preparation” time for the friendlies against Solomon Islands, whom they drew 1-1 with on Wednesday, and Singapore.
PLAYING BALL Fiji’s only international titles are from the Pacific Games, a multi-sport event among countries from the South Pacific Ocean, which they won in 1991 and 2003.
While the Bula (“hello” in Fijian) Boys did not win the most recent edition in 2015, Fiji’s Under-23 side – the Games were restricted to players U-23 and below – managed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics after winning the Olympic Qualifying stage, which was played during the tournament. That made them the first OFC team apart from Australia and New Zealand to reach the Olympics’ men’s football tournament.
Fiji also take part in the Oceania Nations Cup, a quadrennial event that included New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Vanuatu, Samoa and eventual champions New Zealand in 2016. The Cup also doubled as qualification for the FIFA World Cup, which Fiji has never qualified for.
However, the U-20 side did make it to the 2015 U-20 World Cup – the first time Fiji had done so at any age-group.
From a high of 106 in 2008, the Fijians sank to their lowest FIFA ranking of 192 in 2014 but have slowly ascended the rungs and currently sit four spots above Singapore.
Football is not a professional sport in Fiji, with Gamel describing the level as “amateur”.
“My task is to bring a professional way, which is difficult – culturally it’s totally different because of the Island mentality. There’s also not a large choice of players, that’s why we are developing grassroots football. The facilities and means here in Fiji are not so much present and developed so I have to have lots of ideas,” he said.
Eight teams contested the most recent season of the Vodafone Premier League, its 42nd iteration, which was won by Lautoka FC for the fourth time ahead of 20-time record champions and holders Ba FC.
TEAM Gamel whittled the squad down to 22 for their previous game against the Solomon Islands, where captain Roy Krishna scored from the spot to rescue a 1-1 draw.
For this trip to Singapore, two players were unable to travel, so he will have to make do with 20 players (above, photo credit: Fiji Football Association/Facebook).
Seven of the eight top-flight clubs have at least one representative each in this team, with relegated Dreketi the exception. Ba contribute seven players, while champions Lautoka have three. The second tier is represented by Nadroga forward Paulo Buke.
Skipper Krishna, who plays for A-League side Wellington Phoenix, is the highest-profile Fijian footballer in recent times and the 31-year-old attacker is their talisman with 22 goals in 34 caps.
He is also the only player above 30, with the average age being 23.7 years.
English second-tier side Stoke City’s Scott Wara is the name on everyone’s lips though. The centre-back made his international debut against Solomon Islands, having been wanted by Fiji since last year. The Lautoka-born youngster moved to England in his early years and started playing rugby – naturally – before taking football seriously at 13. Now 18, he made his English Football League debut last December while on loan at seventh-tier Leek Town.
Wara, who played in midfield against Solomon Islands, is listed as part of Stoke’s U-18 side but has completed all four of their U-23 league matches this season.
Wara and Krishna are the only two professional Fijian footballers in the squad.
Goalkeepers: Misiwani Nairube, Alzaar Alam.
Defenders: Laisenia Naioko, Kolinio Sivoki, Remeuru Tekiate, Kavaia Rawaqa, Peniame Drova, Scott Wara.
Midfielders: Kishan Sami, Dave Radrigai, Christopher Wasasala, Zibraaz Sahib, Hussaini Khan, Junior Narendra Rao
Forwards: Paulo Buke, Abbu Zahid, Ratu Kaliova Dau, Rusiate Matarerega, Saula Waqa, Roy Krishna.