Wellington Phoenix and the Fiji national team shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw on the last match day of the A-League club’s tour of the Pacific nation.
Played at Ba’s Govind Stadium on Tuesday, the match was a highly entertaining contest with both teams looking to play expansive and wide from the start.
Phoenix dominated possession but with Fiji creating the best chances, a draw was a fitting reflection of the match after Phoenix won the first game 2-1 on Saturday.
It was also a good opportunity for Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick to run the rule over triallists Blake Powell and Kwabena Appiah ahead of the 2015-16 season.
The first shot came after just two minutes when the Phoenix’s Roy Krishna, playing and captaining Fiji for the second time on the tour, got in behind the Phoenix backline to set up Vakatalesau who forced Moss into a sharp save.
The industrious Krishna was named man of the match for the second successive game, and his pace and touch were a constant threat to the Phoenix defence and was at the heart of Fiji’s best moves.
The first goal of the game came after just 12 minutes. After a good build up, Phoenix full back Justin Gulley surged into the box and his attempted cross was deflected and squeezed in under Fiji’s unlucky keeper Mateisuva to make it 1-0.
The Phoenix’s second goal came just four minutes later. Roly Bonevacia picked up the ball in his own half and set out on a mazy run where he turned two Fiji players before putting the ball through for Appiah who fired a powerful shot into the top of the net giving the Fiji goalkeeper no chance.
The Phoenix’s best spell came for the rest of the second half.
Midfielders Bonevacia and Academy product James McGarry were dominating the midfield, while Powell and Appiah were causing some real concern for the Fiji defence with their pace and link up play. Out wide Gulley and Doyle were getting forward and creating overlaps on attack.
McGarry had the ball in the back of the net again on 31 minutes after some very good build up between Powell, Gulley and McGarry but the goal was chalked off for off side.
The second half was a different game.
Fiji started much stronger as Merrick rang the changes to give young players some experience on the pitch.
By the end of the match academy players Sapreet Singh, McGarry, and Sam Philip, had all gained valuable game time against a national side.
However, it was Fiji who owned the second half.
On 51 minutes, Krishna was again the one who got in behind the defence forcing a good save out of keeper Moss.
On 60 minutes, Fiji had two cracks at goal. The first one Moss was again forced into a good save and on the second attempt Fiji blasted over the top.
Five minutes later Fiji hit the post after some more good build up play from Krishna.
On 80 minutes Fiji got their just rewards and it had to be Krishna. A miscalculation in the Phoenix defence saw the striker in front of goal with the ball at his feet and he thumped it past Moss to make it 2-1.
Three minutes later and Fiji equalised when the ball was cut back to Jese on the edge of the box and he rifled the ball home.
Right at the end of the match replacement player Nathan Burns set up Riera but his last ditch shot was snuffed out by the excellent Alvin Singh to ensure the honours were even.
Merrick was satisfied with the result.
“It was good to play only three or four days after our last game and after only a week’s preparation,” he said.
“I thought we played really well in the first half and could have got a third goal, but in the second half Fiji took over and they scored two goals and I thought they were unlucky not to win the game.
"We ran out of legs and ran out of players.
“I think we had four sixteen-year-olds on at the end, but that’s all good for pre-season so we got out of it what we wanted and it’s a credit to the Fijian side they pushed a full time professional outfit all the way to the wire and should have stolen the game at the end.
“Thanks to Fijian FA and Fiji Airways we could put this tour together and if that Fijian team could play some regular international football they could cause some teams some problems in the South Pacific.
‘I’d love to come back, the hospitality’s been great, the quality of the matches has been first class and the people have been terrific”
In the earlier match, the Wellington Phoenix Academy/Premiers side ran out 3-1 winners over the Fiji U23 side.
Two goals to Max Mata and one to Ruairi Cahill-Fleury saw the Academy/Reserves side convincing winners, with Joe Bell, Sarpreet Singh, Tamupiwa DiMario and Christian Johnson all impressing.
Marcel Kampman was asked to make a number of saves in goal in the second half to retain the Phoenix advantage.
The Phoenix’ Sinopec pre-season returns to Wellington next week where a few weeks of intensive conditioning under Strength and Conditioning Coach Lee Spence will take over.
Fiji U23 1 (Qasevakatini 69’) – Wellington Phoenix Academy/Reserves 3 (Cahill Fleury 17’, Mata 32’, 48’).
Fiji U23 Bokini (Tamanisau 55’), Sivoki, Dreola, Nawakula, Tuivunsa, Verevou, Matarerga, Wasasala, Baravilala, Naisua, Nakalevu
Academy/Premiers: Italiano, Philip (c), Tongue, Dimario, Singh, Wilson, Khouchabba, Hailmariam, Bell, Cahill-Fleury, Johnson, Mata
Fiji 2 (Krishna 80’, Jese 83’) – Wellington Phoenix 2 (Gulley 12’, 16’ Appiah)
Fiji: Mateisuva, Logaivou (Jese 71’), Kautoga, Singh, Tekiate (Kerevanua 37’), Sahib, Krishna R (c), Vakatalesau (Drudru 41’), Krishna M (Zahid 85’), Vesikula (Drova 55’), Radrigai
Phoenix: Moss, Gulley, Muscat, Bonevacia, Appiah-Kubi (Burns 62’), Powell (Singh 62’), Lia (Riera 45’), Sigmund (c), (Dimario 62’), Doyle, Ridenton (McGlinchey 62’), McGarry (Philip 76’).