SPORTS

Ba, Lautoka Shift Focus to O-League

Ba and Lautoka have turned their attention to next Feb­ruary’s OFC Champions League after contrasting cam­paigns at this month’s Courts In­ter-District Championship. Ba will make its 12th appearance in the
24 Oct 2018 11:00
Ba, Lautoka Shift Focus to O-League
Ba players celebrate Saula Waqa’s goal during the 2018 Courts IDC . Photo: Ronald Kumar

Ba and Lautoka have turned their attention to next Feb­ruary’s OFC Champions League after contrasting cam­paigns at this month’s Courts In­ter-District Championship.

Ba will make its 12th appearance in the regional tournament, but both teams share similar records.

Lautoka, under coach Kamal Swa­my, reached the final at this year’s competition but lost heavily – 10-3 on aggregate – over two legs to Wel­lington FC.

Despite the loss, taking Lautoka to the finals of the region’s pre­mier football competition is one of Swamy’s greatest achievements as coach.

Helped by a management that is not afraid to spend big on new play­ers, Swamy has managed to main­tain Lautoka’s good form since the final.

“The team has started training. Our immediate focus is the Pacific Cup in New Zealand but the ma­jor focus remains next year’s OFC league,” Swamy said.

“The IDC gave us a platform to test how prepared we are for the OFC league so the win was a major con­fidence booster.”

One thing that stuck out like a sore thumb in Lautoka’s IDC win was the dismal finishing of striker Samuela Drudru.

But Swamy has defended his striker, who was fined in 2017’s OFC competition for racial comments against a match official.

“That’s why we have more than one striker (to address the finishing problems,” Swamy said.

“Drudru’s role was different in this tournament and it wasn’t all about scoring. I am also happy he maintained his discipline and did not get a single card in the tourna­ment.”

Lautoka defended its IDC title with a narrow 1-0 win against Suva at the ANZ Stadium, courtesy of a Samuela Nabenia goal.

Ba, on the other hand, struggled at this year’s tournament, winning just once against newcomers Nas­inu as the westerners failed to pro­gress from its group.

Ba’s preparations

Ba also came close to winning the regional competition in 2007, but lost on away goals to New Zealand’s Waitakere United.

The westerners, under current coach Ronil Kumar, failed to make it out of their group in 2018’s edi­tion of the tournament.

Their domestic season has been a mixed one.

Ba won August’s Battle of the Gi­ants tournament and was runners-up in the Vodafone Premier League.

The team faced fierce criticism after the IDC exit, with some fans calling for the resignation of team president Rishi Kumar.

Manager Arvind Singh says Ba was optimistic of sending a good squad to the tournament, despite the departure of Laisenia Raura, Meli Codro and Samuela Nabenia.

The team goes into camp on No­vember 5, a few weeks before their Champion versus Champion clash against Lautoka.

“Football at the OFC League will be of a higher level and Ba will work hard to send a strong team to the tournament,” Singh said.

“Losing three regular players just before the IDC left a big gap in our team and affected our performance in tournament. But we have a crop of very skillful youth players that I am confident will fill the vacuum.”

Edited by Osea Bola

Feedback: sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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