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Praise for our U20 heroes

#Just over a year ago, in late April and early May 2014, I had the distinct privilege of sharing accommodations with a team of footballers who were touring New Zealand.#The team spent just over two weeks in Auckland playing four club-level matches and the New Zealand Under-20 side twice- an intensive tour that was unusually prescient of the demands of a FIFA World Cup tournament hosted in New Zealand.#As I watched these teenagers last year, I could see all the hallmarks of a typical Fijian national team- many were travelling overseas for the first-time; they struggled with the different food and of course, the cold climate. All six matches they played were in single-digit temperatures. #Four wins over different club sides were tempered by two losses to the New Zealand U20 team, but that tour gave the boys a taste of the long road that lay ahead.#Twelve months on, a qualifying tournament win and build-up tours through New Zealand (again), South East Asia and Australia, saw this same team of young men surprise everyone in the football world with three solid matches at the FIFA U20 World Cup, which included a 3-0 upset win over Honduras.#Playing their first match against a footballing powerhouse in Germany, they gave up 6 goals in a first half performance that can squarely be put down to big-stage nerves. From the start of the second half against the Germans, through the Honduras match and an hour into their final game against Uzbekistan, Fiji played with maturity and composure; their overall performance at this global tournament showed a level of technical nous that belies the country’s FIFA ranking of 195.#Over the coming days and weeks, fans and the boys themselves will look back to this tournament and will recognise it as the day that Fiji came of age– not only did we score a goal against Germany, but the victory against Honduras gives future Fiji national teams a benchmark that they must all now strive to further– not only can Fiji score goals at a global level, we can win matches.#As I look back on Fiji’s performance at this tournament, a part of me was sad to see the end of the dream– but I also had an overriding sense of pride in the way they played and held themselves throughout the tournament. At the end of their final pool match in Whangarei- as someone who was here 12 months ago at the start of their qualification journey, who saw them play and win the qualifying tournament in Suva and who also watched their buildup tour last November at the OFC President’s Cup- I was struck by how much change and improvement the boys have shown.#I also thought back to their first trip to Auckland last April, when I had the opportunity to join in their daily evening devotions and was invited to share a brief message with the team.# #I reminded the boys that wherever football takes them, to never forget who they are and where they come from. As representatives of their families, their communities and their country on the world stage, they shouldered that burden with ease – and we all are proud of them.#By Tukaha Mua#(Tukaha Mua is the Head of OFC TV & Radio and is based in Auckland. The views in this article do not represent those of his employer)#

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