Much like they controlled the first legs of their respective semi-finals, Team Wellington and Latuoka are both looking to gain an advantage from Sunday’s OFC Champions League Leg 1 Final at David Farrington Park in Miramar.
The two finalists both have a lot to prove.
For Team Wellington this is their opportunity to step out of the shadow of Auckland City, a move they started when they knocked the reigning champions out of running to claim an eighth straight Oceania title.
Under José Figueira the side has flourished.
A strong commitment to the team playing style, tactical flexibility, focus and organisation are all part of the team ethos.
But in addition, the players in this squad are all working not only for themselves, but for each other.
Figueria said part of that is the environment he has tried to cultivate, part of it an organic evolution inside the group.
“Our job as coaches is to help the players showcase themselves on the field and I think you see that in this group. They really enjoy the way we play and they work extremely hard for each other,” he said.
With the atmosphere and approach sorted, the focus for Team Wellington is on the task at hand – the final of the OFC Champions League.
The difficulty is that they need to once again perform over two legs.
“We showed all different types of personality in the two semi-final games,” Figueira explained.
“We showed that we’re a team that can control the ball, can create chances, can dominate through attacking and scoring goals.
“But likewise, we’re going to have to roll our sleeves up, work hard, be focused and believe in the way we play and ensure we follow that – and our instincts – to get us over the line.”
But Team Wellington aren’t the only side with an eye on the prize.
As the first Fijian club to make the final of the region’s premier international club competition since 2007, Lautoka have the weight of a nation on their shoulders.
“It’s very important not only for Lautoka, but for Fiji,” coach Kamal Swamy said.
“If we do good and if we qualify, it lifts our country’s football and we will have a lot of opportunities for our players to see overseas clubs when they meet in the Club World Cup.”
Lautoka captain Benaminio Mateinaqara agrees with his coach’s belief that these two matches and their potential outcome is about more than just the club.
“It’s a big thing for us, especially for a team like Lautoka because we’re representing not just the team, but Fiji as well,” he explained.
“It’s a proud moment for the team, for the players. We’re also representing our families and we’ve all, including them, sacrificed a lot to be here.
“We just want to go and play for them, play for the country and come back with a good result.”
It’s completely within Lautoka’s ability to be the thorn in Team Wellington’s side.
The club has already shown they are capable of holding their own against a regional powerhouse.
The 1-0 loss in the final group stage encounter was a considered display of the team at its best.
While victories against AS Dragon and Marist in the quarter finals and semi-finals respectively showed they’re also capable of more than just defending but being able to strike exactly when the time is right.
Of course, consideration has been made by both sides of the only previous meeting between them, two friendlies in Lautoka back in December 2017.
While they were fairly comprehensive wins for the visitors there’s no assumptions being made now, based on those results.
“Lautoka has got a team of many strengths, filled with many international players,” Figueira said.
“We know them very well. I think they’re a very powerful attacking team, similar to ourselves, and I think they’ll be trying to impose themselves on the ball especially in those attacking moments, those transition moments.
“We need to make sure we’re well organised when we’re on the ball to try and limit those opportunities.”
Swamy wasn’t present for the friendly matches but has seen the video and said Lautoka’s squad has changed since then, as has Team Wellington’s.
“We played with seven regular players not in the team. I think the second game Lautoka managed better, but even the Wellington coach has said that this time will be different,” he said.
“Yes, Team Wellington is a good team, we respect them and it will be a good game I am certain.”
OFC Champions League Final – Leg 1
Team Wellington [NZL] vs. Lautoka FC [FIJ]
David Farrington Park
Wellington, New Zealand
Sunday 13 May
Kick-off: 14h00 local (14h00 FIJ)
Referee: Kader ZITOUNI [TAH]
Assistant Referee 1: Tevita MAKASINI [TGA]
Assistant Referee 2: Bernard MUTUKERA [SOL]
Fourth Official: Mederic LACOUR [NCL]
Vital Statistics: This is the first final in four years that will not feature two New Zealand teams. Although the team objectives come first, Angus Kilkolly will no doubt be aware that two goals over the course of the final will see him overtake Auckland City FC’s Emiliano Tade for the Golden Boot. Kilkolly currently has seven goals to his name, Tade has eight.
The Players: The goal scoring form of this side has them stealing headlines, but it’s important to also acknowledge the defence. In goal, Scott Basalaj has at times been called on to make game-winning saves, while the hard work of captain Justin Gulley hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Coach Quote: “As a club, the last four years have been working hard to try and get through and be the winners. This year we find ourselves with a great opportunity to do that. It’s a fantastic tournament, a great experience of the other nations and the region, and obviously to come up against different teams, styles and culture. We’re very excited to now see ourselves in the final.”
Team List: 1. Scott BASALAJ (GK), 2. Justin GULLEY, 3. Scott HILLIAR, 4. Mario ILICH, 5. Liam WOOD, 6. Taylor SCHRIJVERS, 7. Eric MOLLOY, 10. Nathanael HAILEMARIAM, 11. Mario BARCIA, 12. Andy BEVIN, 13. Roy KAYARA, 14. Jack-Henry SINCLAIR, 16. Angus KILKOLLY, 19. Ross ALLEN, 20. Hamish WATSON, 21. Daniel MULHOLLAND, 22. Marcel KAMPMAN (GK)
Coach: José FIGUEIRA [ENG]
Vital Statistics: Lautoka are more than capable of creating good quality chances for themselves in front of goal. However, across the course of their OFC Champions League campaign have managed to find the back of the net just seven times in six matches – equalling the tally of Team Wellington’s top goal scorer Angus Kilkolly.
The Players: Dave Radrigai is immense in the centre of the park. He combines well with Cory Chettleburgh to manage the danger through the middle, defends with intent and creates opportunities for himself and for the strikers when on attack.
Coach Quote: “I think the fans have been very honest with our team and very positive. We hope they will be doing the same when we play in Wellington, that they will pray and support and when we come back home to play, that they will come in numbers to cheer our team on.”
Team List: 1. Senirusi BOKINI (GK), 2. Edward JUSTIN, 3. Zibraaz SAHIB, 4. Shazil ALI, 4. Poasa BAINIVALU, 5. 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, 18. Arami MANUMANUBAI, 19. Benji TOTORI, 20. Brian KALTACK, 22. Benaminio MATEINAQARA
Coach: Kamal SWAMY [FIJ]