Editorial comment – Soccer’s challenge

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama (sitting third from left) at the opening of the Courts IDC in Suva. Picture: NOA BIUDOLE/FILE

In early October last year Iceland became the smallest country to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.

They defeated Kosovo 2-0 to book themselves a spot in their first finals in Russia in July this year.

Gylfi Sigurdsson powered in Iceland’s first goal five minutes from halftime. The message was loud and clear.

There could be no doubts about the impact the side had on the imaginations of its fans.

Their run to the 2016 European Championship quarter-finals was no fluke. Iceland beat Austria and England along the way to consolidate their entry.

Sigurdsson set up the second goal for Johann Gudmundsson midway through the second half against Kosovo.

The achievement attracted international media attention, and sent shockwaves around the world.

How could you even shrug aside Iceland’s achievement? It was massive for a country with a population of about 350,000 people.

The previous smallest country to have reached the finals was Trinidad & Tobago, with 1.3 million people in 2006.

What took the cake though was the revelation that Iceland was coached by part-time dentist Heimir Hallgrimsson.

Media reports highlighted the fact that Iceland’s seven wins in the group included all five of their home matches where previous World Cup semi-finalists Croatia and Turkey were among victims. In the face of that amazing achievement sits our campaign.

Sceptics will remember how our stint at the premier sporting event on the planet, at the Olympic Games in Rio in August 2016 catapulted soccer to positive heights here.

We came off second best in every match there. However, the experience and exposure was invaluable.

Brazil showed us that it takes a lot of hard work to reach the top of the table. It takes exposure, commitment, enthusiasm, determination and sacrifice to mix it with the best in the business.

Our players were exposed to a very different standard of soccer in Rio.

They would have appreciated the intensity and demands on their body.

They would have appreciated dietary requirements, individual skills sets, and fitness standards.

They would have been exposed to the importance of general field positioning, accuracy in passing, and the need to hone their peripheral vision under pressure.

This afternoon, for whatever it is worth, thousands of soccer lovers from around the country will be focused on Suva’s National Stadium.

They will converge on the Capital City for the annual Inter District Championship.

The onus is on our players at the IDC to live up to the expectations of their fans. They have a major challenge to lift our game at the domestic level as well.

National coach Christophe Gamel has made no bones about the demands now placed on their shoulders.

He knows a lot about the beautiful game. He knows the potential we have here. He also knows what is required to turn heads at the top level.

He knows it is important to have a good base.

Whatever your pick today, whether you back the Blues, the Jetsetters, Suva or Labasa, we hope soccer is the winner.

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