After a clinical first leg performance at David Farrington Park, a location which is proving one of New Zealand’s most difficult grounds, Team Wellington have set themselves on course to pick up their first regional title along with tickets to the FIFA Club World Cup.
But after a 6-0 drubbing away, Lautoka have no intention of letting the visitors rub further salt in their wounds when they welcome them for Leg 2 of the OFC Champions League Final at Churchill Park on Sunday.
Throughout the competition Lautoka has continued to build on each performance, coming together as a unit to hold defending champions Auckland City to just a 1-0 win before seeing off both AS Dragon of Tahiti and Marist FC from Solomon Islands, on their way to the final.
While none of their matches have been high-scoring affairs a solid backline, ably led by Kolinio Sivoki and Brian Kaltack in the centre, had proven hugely effective – until they met Team Wellington’s potent attacking force.
Out-matching Lautoka for pace and strength, the side from New Zealand’s capital were able to keep a level of pressure on their opponents which eventually forced them into making errors which they could capitalise on.
While Lautoka were able to keep things together for close to an hour, eventually they were worn down, allowing five second half goals which made their bid for the title that much harder.
Although to many victory in the second leg seems like an insurmountable task for Lautoka, coach Kamal Swamy still has faith in his squad to pull themselves together and put in the effort required to challenge Team Wellington.
“They are able to keep possession for a long time which made us tired and I think that’s something we are going to look at,” Swamy reflected.
“I think the weather at home will help us a lot and we are going to be working on those lines to deny them possession and that, I think, will help us in this game.”
Swamy said one of the toughest aspects of last Sunday’s result is trying to keep morale in the camp high.
“We have talked. We had a meeting with the players and they know the first game was tough, the score line was very big and I think the criticism from fans has been a lot,” he said.
“But we have to be focused for the second game because it’s our home game and we have to prove a point.
“I think the players are really focused, they’re all in the camp and looking at the games – where they made mistakes, where we can improve – so I think they’re really focused on Sunday’s game.”
Coming to Lautoka with a six goal cushion certainly wasn’t what Team Wellington coach José Figueira envisioned ahead of the final.
However, after a dominant performance at home in which his side showed their desire for the title, that’s exactly what Team Wellington have and although it means they have arrived in Fiji with a certain level of comfort, Figueira said they won’t be taking Leg 2 of the OFC Champions League Final lightly.
“You saw from the reaction of the players after the game, of course they were delighted with a great performance and celebrated a good performance, but it was clear to see there was nothing over the top,” Figueira said.
“We know that the job isn’t complete yet and this week the players have been really focused and applied themselves really well as they have done all season.
“So it’s really been business as usual and making sure we tick all the boxes and do our preparation leading into tomorrow’s game.”
Figueira said as a coach he can completely understand the difficulties Lautoka experienced in the First Leg – with suspensions, visa issues and an unfamiliar climate all playing a part in the visitor’s match day performance.
“I think they’ll be a tougher team at home,” he said.
“We experienced exactly the same thing in the Group Stage this year, and last year. What the travel does, what the different environment does and playing away from home in this competition – the extra effects and pressure that brings – so we’re really preparing ourselves for a really difficult match on Sunday.”
Lautoka need to score six unanswered goals to force the match into extra time, and seven goals to go clear of their opponents.
Anything less than that, and Team Wellington will be booking themselves tickets to their first FIFA Club World Cup.
OFC Champions League Final – Leg 2
Lautoka FC [FIJ] vs. Team Wellington [NZL]
Sunday 20 May
Kick-off: 14h00 local (14h00 NZL)
Referee: Norbert HAUATA [TAH]
Assistant Referee 1: Phillipe REVEL [TAH]
Assistant Referee 2: Bertrand BRIAL [NCL]
Fourth Official: David YAREBOINEN [PNG]
Vital Statistics: If Lautoka can score six goals without conceding any, they will keep themselves in the running for the title. However, having only scored seven goals in seven matches in this competition so far, the task looks like one of the toughest they’ve faced yet.
The Players: Benji Totori was the man who looked most likely to find the back of the net for Lautoka and the pressure will be on him to create something on Sunday to help the side achieve their objective.
Coach Quote: “Our objective for this match is to get a win and at least we can have three points. If we are able to get more goals then that’s fine, but the objective is to win this game.”
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, 15. Peni FINAU, 16. Osea VAKATALESAU, 17. Kolinio SIVOKI, 18. Arami MANUMANUBAI, 19. Benji TOTORI, 20. Brian KALTACK, 22. Benaminio MATEINAQARA
Suspended: 14. Samuela DRUDRU, 11. Praneel NAIDU
Coach: Kamal SWAMY [FIJ]
Vital Statistics: Team Wellington have played in three previous OFC Champions League Finals. Justin Gulley was there for Team Wellington’s first final back in 2015 which was also held in Fiji. Scott Basalaj, Mario Barcia and Andy Bevin have been involved in several previous campaigns too.
The Players: Roy Kayara has slotted into the Team Wellington line-up with ease since joining from Hienghene Sport in New Caledonia. His performance in the first leg of the final was inspired and his work rate is exceptional.
Coach Quote: “We’ve got to make sure we use all those experiences of the past to lead us in the right direction on Sunday. It’s a tough place to play, all the games they’ve had there this year and in previous years, they’ve had a big crowd so we’ve to to manage it.”
Team List: 1. Scott BASALAJ (GK), 2. Justin GULLEY, 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)
Suspended: 3. Scott HILLIAR
Coach: José FIGUEIRA [ENG]
To view the results, match schedule and latest news for the OFC Champions League 2018 click here