On the 2nd December 2017, two regional teams jetted off to Fiji to take part in the Ultimate Fiji Cup. Here is the story, through the eyes of U15’s team manager, and FFSA Regional Development Officer, Matt Mays.
The FFSA boys and girls squads arrived in Nadi on Saturday evening in high spirits and a general excitement in representing South Australia. It was also an opportunity for some of these regional players to play at an elite level for the first time. It’s fair to say everyone was raring to go.
Day 1 consisted of adapting to the conditions. A light training session for both sides was on the cards after a very welcomed arrival from our hosts at the Radisson Blu in Denerau.
Day 2 – Gameday
Both squads made the long two hour bus trip to Ba for an opening ceremony that saw all teams across a number of countries bound together to celebrate the week ahead. Boys and girls from our FFSA sides represented the country by holding the FIFA flag plus assisting with the national anthem of Australia.
The U15’s boys kicked off their campaign with a convincing 5-0 victory over a Fiji South side at the National Academy. Goals from Eli Petersen (Adelaide Hills), Fergus Shoemark (Mount Gambier), Bailey Beidenweg (Whyalla), Antonios Vrastaminios (Riverland) and Jackson Jamieson (Port Lincoln).
The girls also made a solid start with a 6-0 win over Fiji South Goalscorers for girls: Matika Hilliard-Faulkner x2 (Gawler), Belinda Rayner x2 (Riverland), Jade Perarson-McKenzie (Adelaide Hills), Clara Mussell (Adelaide Hills) completed the scoresheet in what was an exceptional display from the girls in tough conditions.
Our biggest challenge of the trip so far as we had a busy schedule in hugely humid conditions on our 3rd day in this wonderful country.
It was an early start for both the boys and the girls as they made their way to their games in Nadi. The boys had 10.15am kick off against Fiji North in what proved to be very tough in extreme high humidity. After a tough start going 1-0 to a first half goal, the boys bounced back really well and Bailey was on hand to strike the ball home to make it 1-1. As the game went on, FFSA certainly looked the stronger and could have pinched the win. At the other end though Trae made a magnificent save from a free kick right at the death.
The girls showed exceptional spirit to fightback against the odds, after finding themselves two goals down early in the second half. After a rather lacklustre first half display, some encouraging words from the coaching staff, and a change in attitude from the team at half time, the girls battled hard and produced a spirited 2-2 draw, both goals coming from Matika Hillard-Faulkner (Gawler) and could have won it, finishing the stronger of the two teams.
After the game, both squads visited local villages. They were greeted like royalty and the kids were very excited to show the boys around. The boys engaged with the village kids, whilst the girls experienced life in a mud village.
In the evening, the teams gathered for a special dinner outside over some fun activities which topped off a jam packed opening 3 days for the squads.
Day 3 – Rest Day
Wednesday was a day of recovery and self reflection as the teams enjoyed some time off. After breakfast, both groups came together after breakfast for a rolling and stretching session, followed by a special confidence workshop in the afternoon conducted by the boys trainer, Chris Wilson. After, the groups enjoyed a spot of shopping in the nearby Port Denerau.
With both our teams in a solid position, we headed into with both teams up against IFG – International Football Group (NSW).
Antonios hit the bar early on for the boys and followed up with a couple of good chances. However, one set piece 5 minutes from the end gave IFG the win, with a looping header from a corner. The win also gave NSW a bonus point for scoring first, which would later be costly for FFSA.
The girls also struggled against our fellow compatriots. Despite a stong finish and a good fightback, two first half goals from NSW proved enough to secure their win and a bonus point.
After the game, the boys and girls enjoyed the afternoon on a private deserted Island called South Sea Island. Despite the rain, the groups enjoyed some snorkelling and a delicious buffet lunch.
FFSA Boys went into their game against Fiji West on Friday needing either a 0-0 draw, a 1-1 draw if we score first, or a win, to qualify for the GF.
It was by far the hottest conditions of the week, but the boys battled really well and arguably should have won comfortably if it wasn’t for an outstanding performance from their goalkeeper.
However it was another set piece that broke our hearts, again with seconds on the clock.
The 1-0 defeat means we could no longer qualify for the Grand Final but qualified for a 3rd place play off against Fiji North.
The girls also had a tough day, going down 4-0 to a solid Fiji West side. The defeat ended the girls chances of progression to a grand final.
The FFSA boys have successfully secured third place in the Ultimate Fiji Cup U16’s with a 2-0 victory over Fiji North this morning.
Two second half goals from Antonios Vrastaminios secured the win to top off a great week.
Fiji North were the only team in the group to not lose a game before today, which puts the win into perspective.
Tonight both teams enjoyed a presentation night, which celebrated the achievements of the week. 3 FFSA players made it into the tournament best XI, including Sam Styles, Antonios Vrastaminios and Matika Hilliard-Faulkner. A huge congratulations go to those for their achievements this week.
Head of Game Development John Mundy said
“I am pleased to see the squads who come from various parts of South Australia, gel together so well. The Coaching and support staff has also impressed me with implementing their professional expertise”.
FFSA would also like to extend a warm thanks to parents and carers who showed their support for the players over the journey this year.