3 Questions as veterans Ba beaten by newbies

Three quick thoughts from Ba Football Club’s opening day loss to debutants Nalkutan on February 10 in the Oceania Champions league.   Newcomers Punish Ba’s Careful Approach Ronil Kumar’s first
14 Feb 2018 11:00
3 Questions as veterans Ba beaten by newbies
Sitiveni Cavuilagi

Three quick thoughts from Ba Football Club’s opening day loss to debutants Nalkutan on February 10 in the Oceania Champions league.


Newcomers Punish Ba’s Careful Approach

Ronil Kumar’s first assignment in the Oceania Champions League as Ba coach was one he would quickly want to forget. A controversial penalty decision converted by James Naka – and a red card – in the second half ultimately decided the game.

But against a team making their debut in the competition and despite Ba being favorites, Kumar went with a conservative approach. Striker Saula Waqa often found himself isolated up the pitch, lacking the crucial service he usually needs to pose a threat. All the five attackers playing behind him – namely, Abbu Zahid, Malakai Tiwa, Samuela Nabenia and Sitiveni Cavuilagi – remained in defensive positions throughout the first half. This allowed Nalkutan to push forward and if not for the heroics of Ba goalkeeper Josaia Ratu, the visitors could have found themselves needing a miracle early on.

Abbu Zahid and Samuela Nabenia were both restricted from making the penetrating runs beyond defenders they almost instinctively love doing. In one instance, even Waqa found himself in defence making tackles – one of which earned him a yellow card. Waqa’s chance did come in the final 20 minutes but his shot hit the crossbar, bounced agonisingly on the line before being caught by the goalkeeper.

Ba has made 45 appearances since the competition first began in 1987, by far the most by a Fijian team and only behind New Zealand’s Waitakere United and Auckland City. The fact that they chose a careful approach playing a team getting their first taste of regional football deserves criticism.


Veteran Suwamy Diligent as Ever; Tiwa not so much

For many years Malakai Tiwa has been one of Ba’s greatest attacking threats. The 31-year-old rose to stardom during the 2006/07 season and has since won numerous titles with Ba. His coach perhaps knows his strengths better than most, having played alongside him in midfield for a good number of those years.

It was baffling to see Tiwa, who was also part of the Hekari United setup in the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup, given a defensive role against Nalkutan. Sitting behind the midfield trio, he was expected to offer protection to the back three of Manasa Nawakula, Avinesh Suwamy and Laisenia Raura. Although, he did not perform poorly, it was easy to notice his frustration. Aerially, Tiwa does offer immense protection at the back.

He even featured at Left Back with the national team under Carlos Buzzetti once. But he is at his best much higher-up the pitch, enjoying physical battles with opposing defenders and the occasional screamer from outside the box. Against Nalkutan, Tiwa did not have a single shot at goal, eventually leaving for the showers early after a controversial red card.

Avinesh Suwamy, on the other hand, began as sweeper for Ba, a position he regularly featured in during his youth days. If there were worries Remueru Tekiata leaving for Suva in the transfer window would cause major problems for Ba in the competition, they were quickly quelled by the veteran.   Suwamy was vocal throughout, urging his players forward in the second half. His ability to spray long balls from deep positions helped Ba threaten in a much-improved performance.


Referees Continue To Make Frustrating Calls

New Caledonian referee Mederic Lacour made inconsistent calls throughout the match at Korman Stadium, Vanuatu. He took charge of his first Oceania Champions League fixture since the 2015/16 installation. The 64th minute penalty he awarded the hosts – that ultimately decided the game – was controversial at best, the wrong call at worst.

Tiwa, whose hands were tucked in close to his body, was harshly djudged to have handled the ball in the penalty box. Because of the potential a penalty kick has to influence the outcome of match, a handball decision has to be made with absolute certainty. If there is doubt over the decision, its benefit must be given to the player in question. The ball may have touched Tiwa’s hand as he re-adjusted his body to defend a snap shot. But in the penalty box, intent is a big factor; in other words a penalty should not have been given.

Lacour also ignored an advantageous situation in the second half twice when fouls were committed, halting potentially decisive Ba attacks in the process. Is it time the Ocean Football Confederation invest more in training our referees and is there a need for more transparency?  For example, referees in leagues in Australia, Germany and the United States are allowed to explain the decision behind a controversial call to fans. Something is not working here and a solution is urgently needed to avoid patronising the region’s soccer fans.

Edited by Anasilini Rtauva



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