Fiji

Viti / फ़िजी / Fiji

  • Capital: Suva
  • Population: 926,300 (2018 estimate)
  • Official Languages: Fijian, English, Fiji Hindi
  • Regional Language: Rotuman
  • Nicknames: Bula Boys
  • Association: Fiji Football Association (FFA)
  • Top Male Domestic League: Fijian Premier League
  • Top Female Domestic League: Fijian Women’s Super League
  • FIFA Code: FIJ

Records

  • Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
  • Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
  • Best OFC Nations Cup Result (Men): Third Place (1998, 2008)
  • Best OFC Nations Cup Result (Women): Finalists (2018)
  • Best South Pacific Games (Men): Gold Medallists (1991, 2003)
  • Best South Pacific Games (Women): Bronze Medallists (2007, 2011, 2019)
  • Best Melanesia Cup Result (Men): WINNERS (5 times)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 94th (July 1994)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 64th (December 2020)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 199th (July 2015)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 142nd (July 2015)
  • Most Capped Player: Roy Krishna – 41 caps [as of October 2021]
  • Top Scorer: Esala Masi – 31 goals

Introduction & Brief History

The archipelago nation of Fiji, officially known as the Republic of Fiji, is part of the Melanesia sub-region of islands, located in the South Pacific Ocean. It is situated roughly 2000km northwest of New Zealand, and surrounded by a number of countries and overseas territories, with Tuvalu to its north, Vanuatu to the west, the French overseas territory of New Caledonia to the southwest, Tonga to the southeast, Niue to the east, Samoa and American Samoa to the northeast, and finally another French overseas territory in the form of Wallis and Futuna to the northeast. The country is made up of 330 islands spanning over a range of 1000km, although about 87% of the 926,000 population live on just its two major islands – Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Having been conquered and becoming a part of the British Empire as a Crown Colony, Fiji finally regained its independence in 1970 as first the Dominion of Fiji, before declaring itself a republic in 1987.

Although Fiji is more famous for being a strong rugby union nation, the history of football on the islands is surprisingly lengthy with the game being played as early as 1889, the British colonists being the unsurprising promoters of the game. The first football club was founded in 1905, with competitive football starting in 1924 when the Inter-District Tournament was introduced. Despite the long history of Fijian football, it wouldn’t be until 1961 when the Fiji Football Association was founded, with the country becoming members of FIFA three years later in 1964, and then members of the OFC in 1966.

Since becoming independent, Fiji has been one of the stronger nations within the OFC with the men’s team having won the gold medal twice in the South Pacific Games football tournament, and silver medalists a further four times, whilst the women’s team have been bronze medalists on three occasions throughout the 2010s. Fiji’s men’s side have also competed in all but two OFC Nations Cup tournaments, finishing third place in both the 1998 and 2008 editions of the continental competition. Although the Fijian women’s side have only appeared in four editions of the Women’s Nations Cup, they have played in a continental final by reaching the 2018 final.

Both national teams have yet to determine their situation with regards to qualifying for their respective World Cups. The women’s team will compete in the 2022 OFC Women’s Nations Cup, with the winner or runners-up (should the World Cup co-hosts New Zealand win the tournament) earning themselves an inter-continental playoff for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Whilst the men’s team are yet to start their qualifying campaign to determine the OFC’s representation in the inter-continental playoffs for the 2022 World Cup, with the initial dates being postponed due to the pandemic. It’s looking likely that a tournament of some sorts will be held in Qatar in March 2022 to determine the Oceanian qualifier for the playoffs.

Fiji National Team

Q. Who is Fiji’s best player of all-time?

Recently in a Fijian publication, a list of the top 50 Fijian players was collated, and topping that extensive list of players from the country was Josaia Tubuna. Tubuna was a commanding centre-back who made his debut for Lautoka in 1974, later moving to Suva in 1976 and played two seasons for the Whites, before joining Ba in 1978 to become essential in the club’s dominance of the Fijian football scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Not only was Tubuna just a formidable defender, he also had a brilliant attacking game to add to his sound defensive qualities, and entertained local football fans for a good 10 years playing within the Fijian leagues and the national team, attracting a big following of fans throughout his playing career.

Sadly, the career of Tubuna was cut tragically short when in 1984, following a game and returning back to Ba with two other team-mates, he was killed in a tragic traffic incident as the hired van they were travelling in crashed into a parked lorry. Tubuna was seated in the passenger seat on the side of the crash and died instantly from the force of the impact. His heart-breaking passing produced an outpouring of grief from all around the country, with 5000 people attending his funeral, and many of his international team-mates acting a pallbearers. The then FFA president Hari Pal Singh said of his loss, “It is a sad day for Fiji soccer. We have lost a national hero…“, whilst the following eulogy was given by a contemporary mourner at the time, “He was a person who gave a lot of pleasure to the people of Ba with his performances on the field. He was dynamic, intelligent, and cared a great deal about younger players. His mastery of the game was as good as anyone in Fiji.

The fact that Josaia Tubuna still tops the list of greatest ever Fijian football players 37 years after his passing truly shows a well-loved, hugely appreciated, and truly iconic player in the history of Fijian football!

Q. Who is currently the best player in the national side?

Roy Krishna

The best player in the Fijian men’s team is also the best player from the South Pacific currently, the 34-year-old star striker Roy Krishna. The Labasa native started at his hometown team before making the move southwards to New Zealand to play for Waitakere United. In his five year stay with the New Zealand Football Championship club, he scored 55 goals in 75 appearances and won the 2012-13 NZFC Golden Boot award. After a brief stop at Auckland City, where he became the first Fijian to score at the finals of a FIFA tournament by scoring against Raja Casablanca in the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup, he then moved to New Zealand’s sole A-League side, Wellington Phoenix. His goalscoring exploits continued racking up 51 goals in 122 appearances for the Nix in a five year period, becoming the club’s leading goalscorer, and also won the A-League Player of the Season award for the 2018-19 season.

From there, he moved to the Indian Super League to play for ATK in 2019, where he scored 15 goals in 21 appearances (the league’s joint highest scorer for the 2019-20 season), before the Kolkatta-based side merged with the historic Indian club Mohun Bagan to become ATK Mohun Bagan. Krishna was named captain of the new side, and again became the league’s top goalscorer by scoring 14 goals in the 2020-21 season, as the side finished as runners-up in that season’s ISL. He will continue as ATK Mohun Bagan’s captain for this upcoming ISL season, which will be his third in Indian football.

In terms of international football, Krishna has played for Fiji on a record 41 occasions and scored 29 goals, making him the second-highest Fijian goalscorer in the country’s history. He made his international debut in the 2007 South Pacific Games, scoring a hat-trick against Tuvalu, and has also competed for Fiji in the 2016 Summer Olympics, being one of the three under 23 team’s overaged players allowed in the team. Naturally, he scored Fiji’s only goal of the Olympic football tournament, in the second group game against Mexico.

Roy Krishna is certainly an inspiration to not just Fijian football players, but to players from the South Pacific and the other OFC members that a career in professional football is possible. He has blazed a path which hopefully more of his fellow countrymen and South Pacific players will follow in the future!

Trina Davis

One of the best players, and most exciting prospects in the women’s team is the American-born, 20-year-old forward Trina Davis. Qualifying for Fiji through her Fijian mother, she made her Fijian international debut at only 16 during the 2018 OFC Nations Cup qualifiers, scoring a hat-trick on her debut against Vanuatu. Davis was integral to Fiji’s run in the Women’s Nations Cup proper, by scoring five goals during the tournament on the team’s road to the final against New Zealand, which they sadly lost. In February 2021, Davis made Fijian football history when she signed her first professional football contract by signing for Israeli top-flight side ASA Tel Aviv University, thus making her Fiji’s first-ever female professional footballer.

Luisa Tamanitoakula

Another excellent player from the women’s national team is 23-year-old attacking midfielder Luisa Tamanitoakula, who currently plays for Women’s Super League side Ba FC. Like Davis, she too was a member of the 2018 OFC Nations Cup squad, and was critical to Fiji’s run to the final by scoring six goals during the tournament – the most of any Fijian during the competition. Four of those goals coming in the 12-0 record defeat of Tonga during the group stage. At the time of writing, Tamanitoakula has played 20 times for the national side, scoring 14 goals so far.

Q. Who could be considered as the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?

Kishan Sami

For the men’s national team, there are a few specifically talented players who might be worth keeping an eye on for the future:

  • Kishan Sami – 21-year-old right back currently playing for Rewa. He started his career at Ba, making his debut at 17, and then making the move to New Zealander club Manukau United in 2020, before returning back to the country earlier in 2021. Sami made his international debut in 2018, and has since made 13 appearances for the national team.
  • Tito Vodowaqa – 22-year-old forward currently playing for Australian club Frankston Pines. He came through the youth ranks of Nadi before making the move to Australia in 2020. Vodowaqa made his international debut in March 2019, and has impressively scored six goals in his five international appearances so far. Four of those goals came against American Samoa in the 2019 Pacific Games, where he finished joint top-goalscorer for Fiji in the tournament alongside Roy Krishna.
  • Scott Wara – 22-year-old centre-back or right-back who is currently a free agent. Although Fijian-born, he was brought up in Staffordshire, England, and started his career playing for the youth sides of local club Stoke City. He did manage a loan move to Leek Town in 2017-18, but was subsequently released from the EFL Championship club in the summer of 2020. Despite a number of trials at a couple of English and Welsh clubs, the defender has yet to formally acquire a permanent move. He has one international cap to his name, making his debut against the Solomon Islands in September 2018.
Cema Nasau

For the women’s national team, as well as Trina Davis, there are plenty of young talented players who are progressing into the national team, but here are a few that might be worth keeping an eye on for the future:

  • Ledua Senisea – 21-year-old full-back who currently plays for Nadi. She made her international debut in 2019 and has scored two goals in her first two games for Fiji.
  • Cema Nasau – 21-year-old attacking midfielder who plays for Ba, and has an impressive record of 19 goals in 18 international appearances. She was part of the 2018 OFC Women’s Nations Cup squad, which reached the final of the tournament, and contributed with five goals, with braces against Tonga and Papua New Guinea.
  • Adi Bakaniceva – 17-year-old forward who plays for Tailevu Naitasiri. She has started her international career as a 15-year-old in 2019, and has done very well by scoring two goals in five international appearances.

Q. What is the current state/performance of the national team?

It’s a bit difficult to judge the current state of both national teams as neither team has played since 2019 because of the COVID-19 global pandemic. However, in terms of the women’s national team, they are certainly in their best position they have ever been. They could be considered as Oceania’s second best women’s team, with the 2018 Women’s Nations Cup showing that progress by being a distance ahead of other OFC members, but still some considerable distance behind New Zealand as demonstrated by the 8-0 defeat in the final. Nonetheless, with many exciting youngsters progressing into the national team most recently, and with the team having recently achieved their highest ever FIFA World Ranking of 64th, not to mention the establishment of the Super League which should provide organised and regular fixtures for female players in the country, the potential is looking exceptionally good for Fiji to progress in the near future.

With regards to the men’s team, there is certainly some cause for optimism with the national team having earned themselves a bronze medal in the 2019 South Pacific Games. However, in terms of the FIFA World Rankings, they are currently fifth highest in the OFC, so the hopes of potentially earning themselves that 2022 World Cup inter-continental playoff spot available for the OFC qualifying, and overcoming favourites New Zealand, may be a bit of a long shot. Nonetheless, the team has steadily improved its ranking over the years, and a great performance in World Cup qualifying could help improve their ranking standing within the organisation for future tournaments.

Q. Looking at Fiji’s international history, what has been the best game, result, or performance for the national team?

For the men’s team, their best year probably came in 1998, when the side won that year’s Melanesia Cup undefeated, finishing ahead of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and New Caledonia, to qualify for the 1998 OFC Nations Cup. In that year’s continental tournament, they managed to qualify for the semi-finals by finishing in second place in their group by beating the Cook Islands 3-0, and giving Australia a tough game but ultimately losing 3-1. In the last four, they almost took the eventual winners New Zealand to extra time, but an 88th minute decider was just enough to send the All Whites to the final rather than the Bula Boys. However, Fiji managed to achieve their best-ever finish in the Nations Cup when they defeated the Polynesia Cup winners, Tahiti, 4-2 in the third place playoff, with Esala Masi getting a brace.

Late November 1988 was also a fantastic period for Fiji as they defeated both New Zealand and Australia within the space of a week. They first defeated New Zealand by a single goal in a friendly, before beating Australia by the same scoreline in the first leg of the qualifying for Italia ’90. Sadly, Australia won the second leg 5-1, but it was still an incredible week for Fiji by beating the two traditional powerhouses of Oceania within 7 days! Fiji wouldn’t defeat New Zealand again until the final game of the 2008 OFC Nations Cup, with a Roy Krishna double ensuring Fiji equalled their finish of ten years prior in the continental tournament.

As mentioned previously, the women’s team’s best performance came in the most recent OFC Women’s Nations Cup in 2018 when they reached the final of the tournament. They were the only team in the tournament who had to qualify for the competition, overcoming Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and American Samoa in the preliminary group round to earn their spot, after not entering the 2014 edition of the competition. In the group stage, they defeated the Cook Islands 3-0, and Tonga 12-0 (achieving their record victory) to reach the semi-finals, albeit suffering a 10-0 defeat to New Zealand in the final group game to finish second in the group. In the last four, they came from a goal down to defeat Papua New Guinea 5-1 to set up a rematch against the Football Ferns in the final. Sadly, New Zealand are by far and away way ahead of everyone else in the confederation and again heavily defeated Fiji, this time by a scoreline of eight goals to nil. Despite the two heavy defeats to New Zealand, Fiji’s women can confidently claim to be the ‘best of the rest’ within the OFC until the next Women’s Nations Cup.

Q. What is your favourite shirt from the Fijian national team?

The 2012 OFC Nations Cup shirt.
[IMAGE: OldFootballShirts.com]

Looking through the shirts that Fiji have worn throughout the years, my favourite has to be the one they wore for the 2012 OFC Nations Cup. Although they wore the shirt briefly before switching to Kappa, the Puma-made shirt looks classy, especially with the addition of the gold stripes down the side of the shirt to break up the monotone colours. Very nice!

Fijian Domestic Football

Q. What is the Fijian football pyramid like?

At the time of writing, the Fijian football pyramid has just two levels:

  • Tier 1 – Fijian Premier League
  • Tier 2 – Fijian Senior League

The Fijian Premier League was founded in 1977, and currently has eight teams competing in the league, with games played from January to August/September. Each team plays each other twice over the season with the league winners and runners-up qualifying for the following year’s OFC Champions League. The bottom placed team gets automatically relegated to the Fijian Senior League and is replaced by the best team from the North and South Zones of the second-tier league. The Senior League was formed in 2016 providing a promotion and relegation system within Fijian football for the first time, and the second tier usually has twelve teams competing within it, split between two zones of six teams – the Viti Levu Zone, and the Vanua Levu Zone.

The national cup competition is the Fiji Football Cup, commonly known as the ‘FF Cup‘, and it was first organised in 1991.

Q. Which Fijian teams are historically the most successful?

The number of Premier League titles that have been won by Fijian teams since the first season in 1977:

  • 21 titles: Ba
  • 9 titles: Nadi
  • 5 titles: Lautoka
  • 4 titles: Suva
  • 3 titles: Nadroga
  • 2 titles: Labasa
The logos of the three most successful Fijian clubs.

The most successful Fijian team by far is Ba FC, who have won 21 titles in their long history. The Men in Black claimed the very first FPL season in 1977, with their most recent title returning to Ba District in 2019. Since the turn of the millennium, they have clearly been the dominant force in Fijian football having won 12 titles, including six consecutive championships between 2001 and 2006. The second-most successful side is Nadi FC, who have won nine titles in their history. Six of their nine titles came between 1978 to 1985, with The Jetsetters most recent title coming in 2015 – fifteen years after their eighth title in 2000. Finally, the third-most successful club is Lautoka FC, who have won five championships in their history. Over half of the Bluez‘s titles have come since 2009, with the club winning the 2009, 2017, and 2018 FPLs in recent times.

In addition to their success in the history of the FPL, the three teams previously mentioned have also all appeared in the final of the OFC Champions League (OCL), although none of them have managed to claim Oceanian club football’s biggest prize as of yet. Nadi were the first to achieve the feat by reaching the 1999 final, although they lost 5-1 to Australian side South Melbourne (back when Australia was still part of the OFC). The second Fijian finalist was Ba, who faced New Zealander side Waitakere United over a two-legged final. Despite drawing 2-2 on aggregate, and winning the second leg 1-0 in Auckland, their 2-1 defeat in Ba meant they missed out on the continental trophy on away goals. Still though, Ba are considered the third-best side in OCL history in terms of overall results in the competition’s history. Finally, Lautoka completed the trilogy of Fijian final appearances, facing Team Wellington in the 2018 final. Sadly, the first leg went terribly for the Bluez by losing 6-0 in the first leg in New Zealand, and although they gained some pride in the second leg by losing 4-3 in Lautoka, they still ended the final with a 10-3 aggregate defeat.

The number of FF Cups that have been won by Fijian teams since the first competition in 1991:

  • 8 cups: Ba
  • 5 cups: Nadi
  • 4 cups: Labasa
  • 3 cups: Rewa, Navua
  • 2 cups: Suva, Lautoka, Nadroga
  • 1 cup: Tavua

In terms of the FF Cup, Ba are once again the masters in this competition having won 8 cups, including the very first competition in 1991, although they haven’t won the cup since 2010. Nadi have won 5 FF Cups, with their most recent victory coming over Suva in the 2019 final, beating them 2-1, whilst Labasa FC are the third most successful cup club with 4 cup victories. They won the second ever FF Cup in 1992, and most recently won the cup in 2015 with a 2-0 win over Rewa. The most recent ‘new’ name to win the FF Cup is Suva FC, who won their first cup trophy in 2012 by beating Ba 1-0, and received their second cup in 2020, becoming the current cup holders, when they defeated Nadi by a single goal again.

Q. Who are currently the best teams in the country?

The 2020 Fiji Premier League table.
[IMAGE: Flashscore.com]

The best team in Fijian football currently is Suva FC, who won both the 2020 Fiji Premier League and FF Cup to achieve a domestic double. However, the Capital City Boys just won their fourth title on goal difference, having a +12 goal difference in comparison with runners-up Rewa FC‘s +6, despite the Delta Tigers having won more games during the league campaign. Rewa being very unlucky to claim their maiden championship with Suva narrowly claiming the crucial point they needed to confirm the championship in the final game of the season. Although the two clubs having finished in the OFC Champions League qualification spots, the cancellation of the 2021 edition of the OCL, due to the pandemic, meant they were unable to compete on a continental level.

The delayed 2021 season is currently happening after being delayed for six months, with the season now scheduled to finish in mid-December. At the time of writing, and after six league games played, Lautoka were leading the table on 13 points, just ahead of Rewa in second spot on 11 points, and Labasa in third position with 10 points. The seventh gameday will be played in late October after the sixth was last played in mid-April, and then halted due to the pandemic.

Useful Links

The links for the Fiji Football Association (FFA) official social media channels can be found below:

In addition, the excellent website and account Football in Oceania provides excellent articles, updates, and news reports on all things involving football in Fiji, as well as football news in the other members of the OFC. It can be found at the following links:

So that completes the look at the Fijian national teams and its domestic league. If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com, or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

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