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Fiji Time: 6:51 PM on Tuesday 2 September

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Suva's 28-year wait

Manoj Kumar
Monday, October 01, 2012

MOST Suva players were not even born when the Whites last won the Lloyd Farebrother Trophy.

It has been a long agonising 28-year wait going into this year's championship for the Suva faithfuls.

It was Aisea Mocelutu's extra time header from a perfectly weighted Robert Mark cross in October, 1983, that buried Ba 1-0 at the National Stadium.

In the next 28 tournaments they have just managed to make it into three finals, having lost them all.

Nasinu's Tomu Vania netted on a wet and soggy Ratu Cakobau Park in the 1990 final as Abdul Mannan's men stunned Suva 1-0 when the final day's play was moved to Nausori after atrocious ground conditions following continuous downpour made play impossible at the National Stadium.

It was back to the stadium four years later. With a rival faction (Fiji National Soccer Association) organising a second tournament in Ba, there were many disruptions. Suva marched into the final to set up a showdown with Labasa. The Lions came out on top with a goal from Solomone Seruiratu, winning the 1994 final 1-0.

It took another 12 years before the Whites reached another final, the 2006 showdown against Ba at Govind Park. Disappointingly for them, this turned out to be a one-sided affair. The Men in Black breezed to a 3-0 win with goals from Josaia Bukalidi and Osea Vakatalesau (2).

Suva's dominance stood out from 1940-1960, a period in which the side won nine titles.

Then there came a 21-year drought that was broken at the stadium by a Jone Ratu double. That also halted Ba's six-year winning streak as the Whites reigned 2-1 after extra-time. That match is best remembered for Ratu's execution of a bicycle-kick equaliser as Ba led 1-0 with seven minutes to go.

On the rise

The 2012 season has shown signs of Suva on the rise.

The year got off to a flyer after Nathan Shivam's absolute screamer against Ba in the Fiji FACT final gave the Whites their first tournament triumph in 17 years at Govind Park.

They found the going tough in the BOG but were back fighting for the league crown, only to be shrugged aside by a clinical Ba side 4-0 in the decider. Second spot on the ladder is not bad either.

The inclusion of Nigerian Issa Sani and former Navua, Lautoka and Labasa rep Samu Kautoga adds more depth to an already strong squad. Kautoga, married to BSP employee Charry Kumar, will be keen to make his father-in-law, an ardent Suva fan, proud.

Sani, having played for Rewa and Lautoka, has taken on a new challenge.

Firepower

Sani and Kautoga are valuable versatile players. Sani can play anywhere in midfield or upfront while Kautoga can slot in just about anywhere on the pitch.

"It's good to have players who can fit in anywhere," says coach Gurjit Singh.

This helps create a lot more variations and options, be it in attack or defence and Singh can also keep the opposition guessing. Kautoga has played at central defence, right back, right link and central midfield since joining in June.

The return of Joseph Mishra from New Zealand means more firepower upfront alongside Samuela Drudru, Sani and Ralph Sherwin.

In defence, they have Leone Damudamu, Simione Maikali, Samuela Vula, veteran Inosi Cava, who has never switched districts in over a decade, Joshua Wilson and Waisake Navunigasau.

In midfield, there are Kautoga, Shivam, Luke Ha'aterea, the ever-improving Cedric Datt and the likes of Sherwin, Mishra and Drudru can always drift back should the need arise.

"We have a very decent squad and players who I can rotate around," Singh says.

"We have also brought in two Fiji under-17 reps Nikhil Chand and Altab Saheb and it's good to add youth to experience."

Preparation

The side is in camp.

"We are doing everything possible to make sure that we win," president Mahen Prasad reveals.

"The people of Suva have long waited for an IDC victory and that's what we want to give them. We have done away with the lenient approach and are very serious.

"The players have been training three times a day with the only exceptions being policeman Cava and Williams and Gosling worker Cedric, who misses the midday session. Once we get their leave approved we will have a full team at all sessions."

Singh and Prasad reckon fitness will be a vital factor, especially their ability to cope with the hot and humid conditions in the west as it has either been raining or cloudy in Suva.

Weakness

As Ba showed in the league decider. If they fall behind and one of their key players go out (in that case goalkeeper Emori Ragata), the Whites become vulnerable and that's where the opposition can hit them hard. At the Battle of the Giants, with the injured Shivam, you could see that the cohesiveness, the quality ball distribution and the rhythm wasn't really there. That's one of the reasons why they did not make the top four in that tournament.

Sherwin too has his share of impact on their performance. If he is on song, they will be hard to stop going forward but recently the Solomon Islander hasn't really been at his best.

Tough opposition

Nadi is the team Suva is wary about in pool play. They come up against them on the opening day (October 10) at 6pm. The other teams with the Whites are Ba, Savusavu and Rewa.

Suva is yet to beat Nadi this year in four outings, having drawn two and lost two.

"They will be tough," Singh says. "They have two quality coaches (Kamal Swamy and Imdad Ali) who are working together really well, but we will be out to ensure that we beat them this time."

Coaching staff

In Cava at the back, they have a very experienced defender who, be on the field or on the bench, helps guide his defensive mates. It's always good to have someone like that in the side.

In Singh, they have one of the finest coaches the country has ever produced.

He won the senior division IDC with Tailevu Naitasiri in 1994 before moving into the top flight and guiding Nadi (1998 and '99), Navua (2009) and Labasa (2011) to Lloyd Farebrother Trophy victories.

He coached Nadi to victory after 23 years (in 1998), guided Navua to its first-ever top flight victory since its formation in 1943 and gave Labasa a long-awaited celebration after 17 years.

Can he bring a smile on the faces of Suva football fans after 29 years?

He and his team seem ready to deliver.


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