Last January 11th we learned that the Argentine Rodolfo Zapata will be the head coach of the Fijian national team in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, a normal news until then if the position had not already been held by Ronil Lal, who was the man who led Fiji to secure a spot for the second time in a FIFA tournament – Lal was the head coach in Tahiti for the Junior Bula Boys, where he guided the team to the final match, confirming a spot in the U-20 FIFA World Cup.
Ronil Lal is a very well known coach in Fiji; he is a multi-champion with Labasa, in 2019 he achieved the incredible feat of winning three tournaments in the same year winning the Battle of Giants, the Interdistrict Championship and the Champions vs Champions Series. Lal, an OFC Senior B Licence holder, stepped down from Labasa coaching-role in 2021 citing personal problems as he and his family were hit by Tropical Cyclone Ana –
“I need to value my family and give them the time plus let’s see how long it takes but I’ll be back“, said Lal to a local newspaper. He definitely he got back with a massive feat qualifying Fiji for a major international tournament.
In 2014, the first time Fiji qualified for the tournament, the same happened: Ravinesh Kumar led the team to win the OFC U-19 Tournament held in Suva and later Australian football legend Frank Farina was appointed as the head coach for the U-20 World Cup played in New Zealand. But, at that moment, Farina was already in a role in Fiji FA – as technical advisor -, different from what happened this time. Farina was the head coach of Australia national team for seven years, winning a number of OFC Nations Cup editions and also coaching the team at FIFA Confederations Cup.
Zapata, the new head coach for Fiji U-20 side, is also an experienced coach – but certainly is still to get to know the reality of football in Oceania – and he will not have so much time to do so as the FIFA U-20 World Cup held in Indonesia already starts in May. His most important achievement was guiding Township Rollers from Botswana, Africa, to a national title. He also coached in Kenya, South Africa and United States.
The reaction on Zapata’s appoitment was a ‘mix of emotions’ in the passionated football community in Fiji. Some fans got excited to see an Argentinian to coach Fiji in the next U-20 World Cup, but the majority of the fans seemed a bit dissapointed with the departure of Lal from the head coach position after his succesful stint last year.
It is still unknown wheter Lal will be part of the staff of Zapata in next months heading for the FIFA tournament, but it can be already confirmed that he is not going to be the guidor of this young team at their peak.