'Benzema is as surprised as anybody!'
When Australia departed Oceania in 2006 to join the Asian confederation in the hope that playing more competitive sides that would make the nation stronger, It left behind the other continental powerhouse, New Zealand, who have ruled the roost in the region ever since.
However, the All Whites’ domination of Oceania might end within the next decade, as a small island nation more synonymous with rugby has a talented crop of young footballers all coming through at the same time.
Fiji has never been known as a football country. It sits at a lowly 165th in the world rankings.
They have, however, produced some very good footballers over the years. Who can forget Esala Masi as a star player for the Wollongong Wolves during the last years of the NSL, or in recent times Roy Krishna’s spell at Wellington Phoenix, where he was a regular goal scorer?
There is a new group of Fijian footballers hoping to emulate the success of Masi and Krishna.
The under-19s men’s national team are currently in a training camp in preparation for August’s OFC U-19 Championship, which is being held in Samoa
Two of the 11 sides competing will earn automatic qualification to the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup being held in Indonesia.
New Zealand is the firm favourite to win the tournament, but Fiji will look to replicate its performance in 2014 and cause an upset.
Coach Bal Reddy’s squad will have representatives who play their club football in Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, America and England
Goalkeeper Aydin Mustahib has recently joined Auckland United FC, and big things are expected of the talented 18-year-old gloveman
Aiden Fong is a right-back capable of playing as a winger due to his endurance. He currently calls the Rocky Mountains of Vancouver home, playing for the Whitecaps under-17s side.
On the opposite side is Kris Naicker of the University of Central Arkansas. He’s an ex-Wellington Phoenix youth team player and has also represented New Zealand at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, but it appears he’s changed allegiance to Fiji.
Peter Ravai was once a much-heralded youth prospect who played for Hamburg in Germany but is now with Maidstone United’s under-23s side.
Josh Laqeretabua is a 16-year-old involved with Charlton Athletic’s under-18s side.
I’ve spoken about Mustafa Mohammed on The Roar before. He’s a midfielder in Brisbane Roar’s under-18 team.
He’s a technically gifted player who was a regular goalscorer at junior level and could potentially make his senior debut for Brisbane Roar in the upcoming season
Combative midfielder Abdullah Aiyas is playing for the Bonnyrigg White Eagles under-20s side in the NSW NPL and has been heavily monitored by A-League clubs.
Malakai Love Semira has found the back of net multiple times already this season for Peninsula Power in the Queensland NPL.
Oliver McFadyen is a very direct attacking player capable of scoring goals, as seen with his time at English lower league club Stockport County FC.
Then there’s the prolific junior striker Marcus Lal, who’s coming off a great season with Manly United in the NSW NPL.
It’s an interesting collection of players who on paper could cause a lot of damage at the OFC U-19 Championship in Samoa, but as we all know, matches are won on the field rather than on the blackboard.
New Zealand should still lift the trophy, but if they get too far ahead of themselves, the dark horses for the tournament, Fiji are more than capable of pulling off a miracle
But then again, they might lose every game – such is the unpredictability with the smaller Pacific nations when it comes to football in Oceania.
Regardless, this Fiji under-19s side has people talking, and that’s only a good thing. The next step is to go from easybeats to contenders.