The last of the OFC Champions League quarter finals will take place at Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti and home side AS Dragon are keen to see their home ground advantage carry them past Lautoka and into their first regional semi-final.
But Lautoka are a side with equally lofty ambitions meaning Saturday’s (TAH time) match will be a cracker with both sides eager to secure passage to the semi-finals for the first time.
AS Dragon have been working hard at home with the national league in full swing, and coach Timiona Asen has also had to cope with players being called to national duty for two friendly matches against New Caledonia.
However he’s had the best part of three weeks to work closely with his charges and he is confident that the team is solid, and up for the task ahead.
“Of course, we had the international window with two matches for the Toa Aito against New Caledonia. The players in my team who were called up for this game are doing well, there’s been no injuries and that’s what I was worried about,” Asen said.
The break between the group stage and the one-off quarter final has given Asen time to look at their opponents, who he watched beat fellow Ligue 1 contenders AS Venus 2-1 in Auckland.
“I’ve analysed the matches of the Fiji champions, in particular the group matches against Venus, Auckland City and Madang,” he said.
“I’ve looked at their style of play, how they defend, how they attack. For this game we really just need to play our game, the players need to follow our advice and give their all for AS Dragon.”
Lautoka haven’t had a smooth ride of things during the break either, with the international window followed by some heavy flooding in Fiji, having an effect on their training schedule.
“We had a few hiccups in our country when we had the floods and were unable to train for a few days,” coach Kamal Swamy said.
“Fortunately we were able to spend a couple of days in New Zealand before travelling to Tahiti so we’ve had a bit of time to prepare ourselves for this big game.”
Swamy has twice before brought a side to the OFC Champions League, leading Nadi on their return to the regional stage in 2014, and again in 2015, however it wasn’t a completely memorable experience for the Fijian coach.
“I’ve brought another team, Nadi, it was very bad for two occasions and personally I thought maybe it was my coaching,” he recounted.
“But since I came to this club, the administrators have given me all the requirements that I need and that’s why our team is now here. It’s teamwork that has brought this team up and through to the quarter finals, and I think we will continue to go far.”
Swamy said key recruits have had a positive influence on the squad and offered some senior playing experience which has been vital to managing the team once they’ve taken to the field.
“They’ve brought a lot of experience in positions we were lacking. They’ve come up and gelled well with our players.
“It’s always good to have senior players who you can discuss things with and work with because after preparing the team, it’s these senior players who lead them when they go on the field.”
AS Dragon [TAH] vs. Lautoka FC [FIJ]
Saturday 7 April
Kick-off: 20h00 local (18h00 FIJ / 18h00 NZL / 17h00 SOL / 17h00 VAN)
Referee: Joel HOPKEN (VAN)
Assistant Referee 1: Sione TEU (TGA)
Assistant Referee 2: Jeremy GARAE (VAN)
Fourth Official: Hamilton SIAU (SOL)
Vital Statistics: Dragon has only once before met a Fiji side in the OFC Champions League. In 2014 they played Nadi and won 5-0. Kamal Swamy was the coach of Nadi at that time.
The Players: Captain Tamatoa Tetauira is without a doubt the strongest member of this squad. His ability to turn a match around is something to be witnessed and he has an uncanny ability to pop up anywhere he’s needed on the field at any given time.
Coach Quote: “That Lautoka has qualified for the quarter finals proves that they are an adversary of equal stature and we need to take them seriously.”
Team List: 1. Gilbert MERIEL (GK), 2. Victor SNOW, 3. Teataura HAUATA, 4. Heimana TAVERE, 5. Gabriel VAKOUME, 8. Ariitapu ASEN, 9. Samuel HNANYINE, 10. Marama VAHIRUA, 12. Rainui TZE-YU, 13. Logan LEDUC, 14. Daniel SEINO, 15. Sullivan DUEE, 16. Jonathan MU, 17. Tamatoa TETAUIRA, 21. Christophe GENDRON, 22. Clyde TINIAU, 24. Teinaore SEINO, 27. Hubert TAUHA
Coach: Timiona ASEN [TAH]
Vital Statistics: When Lautoka FC debuted in the OFC Champions League back in 2010 they were just a point shy of topping Group B to qualify for the final. The group was won by Papua New Guinea side Hekari United who went on to become the first non-New Zealand or Australia club to win the OFC Champions League title.
The Players: The trio of imports – Cory Chettleburgh, Benji Totori and Brian Kaltack – are without a doubt the backbone of this squad, however there are plenty of Fijian players who should be overlooked. Goalkeeper and captain Benaminio Mateinaqara has proven himself time and again as a reliable last man while Samuela Drudru has overcome his demons of Champions Leagues past and grown into an essential member of Kamal Swamy’s side.
Coach Quote: “The first thing is they’re the home team and the crowd will be playing on their side. They’re a good team there’s no doubt about that, I think it will be a good match for us.”
Team List: 1. Senirusi BOKINI (GK), 2. Edward JUSTIN, 3. Zibraaz SAHIB, 5. Poasa BAINIVALU, 6. Jone VESIKULA, 7. Dave RADRIGAI, 8. Kavaia RAWAQA, 9. Liesari QALICA, 10. Cory CHETTLEBURGH, 11. Praneel NAIDU, 14. Samuela DRUDRU, 16. Osea VAKATALESAU, 17. Kolinio SIVOKI, 19. Benji TOTORI, 20. Brian KALTACK, 22. Benaminio MATEINAQARA (GK), 23. Viliame TABUCALA (GK)
Coach: Kamal SWAMY [FIJ]