Lautoka FC head coach Anginesh Prasad has spoken of the pride he would feel in leading Fiji’s reigning domestic champions to the Oceania Champions League finals, and the opportunity such an achievement would provide his players.
Lautoka take on rivals Rewa FC this weekend with the winner over two legs progressing to the final eight-team stage of Oceania’s premier club competition.
After two years without a completed continental tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of the competition is not lost on the Baby Blues boss.
“We all are very pleased to see the return of the Champions League, especially in the Oceania region where life has been quite difficult,” Prasad said.
“The OCL consists of only the best in each league in Oceania. To be playing in such a competition in itself is an achievement we can be proud of.
“It is the proudest moment for any coach to qualify for the OCL and it does bring glory to the game and all the stakeholders who make up the football family of this country.”
As well as the honour of potentially representing Fiji in the final stages of the tournament, Prasad believes that success in the OCL can be of huge benefit to his players.
“For players, it’s time to showcase their class and talent with the best in Oceania and a chance to be noticed abroad,” he said.
“So it’s definitely a step up from domestic competition, with much more exposure and visibility for the club.”
As for their National Playoff opposition, Lautoka will face a tough task against Rewa. The Delta Tigers are currently undefeated in the 2022 Digicel Premier League and beat Lautoka 2-0 in that competition at the start of May.
However, Lautoka defeated Rewa 1-0 in Fiji’s domestic cup competition two weeks ago and they have also been strengthened by the recent arrival of players from outside of Fiji.
One of those new arrivals is Papua New Guinea forward Raymond Gunemba, who previously missed out on joining the club in 2021 due to the pandemic. Lautoka know the threat the veteran striker will pose. He scored twice against his new club in a humbling 7-0 loss to Lae City in the Group Stage of the eventually abandoned 2020 edition of the OCL.
Those arrivals, as well as a clean bill of health on the injury front, give Prasad confidence going into the tie – with the first leg on Friday, June 17 at Lautoka’s home ground, Churchill Park.
“Preparation has been going very well, as we all know the importance of the OCL,” Prasad said.
“We are representing our city, Lautoka, and we want to make our people proud.
“Every player is eager to take the field with Rewa and it will be a battle of class.”
The first-leg at Churchill Park kicks off at 7.30pm on Friday, June 17 local time with the second-leg at ANZ Stadium in Suva kicking off at 3pm on Sunday June 19.