THE Labasa football side reminds me of the Gunners from Arsenal. Arsene Wenger's men from South London are a league apart so why the comparison?
It's about the attractive brand of football they both play.
Barcelona are kings of 'the beautiful game' and the difference between them and the Gunners is that their game is not only beautiful to watch, but effective as well.
The same cannot be said about the Gunners of late. They are often mesmerising with their stylish brand of football but have no silverware to show for it in the last seven years, their last victory was the 2005 FA Cup.
While Ba could easily take the tag of Manchester United in Fiji, Labasa, without doubt, falls in the Arsenal category. The northerners have been the entertainers from way back in the 70s with the likes of Gordon Leewai, Anand Sami, Johnny Williams, Jimmy Zoing and others. They learnt to move the ball around with skill and poise, style and guile thanks to Welshman Mike Jones, a Peace Corps teacher who was based in Labasa in the 70s. They have since kept producing talented footballers like Robin Simmons, double international Tevita Tukania, his younger brother Waisale Rasoki, Ivor Evans, Buli Cama, Livai Duguca, the late Simon Peters, Jope Lomu and now Pita Bolaitoga and Maciu Dunadamu.
While they have dazzled with fancy footwork and swashbuckling style of play, they have often struggled to mix it with the end product. The lack of killer instinct has been their missing link. Just look at their record. From 23 grand final appearances (in Fiji FACT, BOG and IDC) they have won only seven.
Experience and quality. They go to Ba next week with one of the strongest squads in the tournament.
They have over a dozen former, current Fiji national team, FUTSAL and age-group reps. Add to that two PNG internationals Kema Jack and Wira Wama.
The coaches will have a tough time selecting their starting 11, especially in defence. They have Sandeep Nair, Amit Kanhaiya, Kavaia Rawaqa, Apisalome Turuva, Taniela Waqa, Ilaitia Tuilau, Posiano Kalisito and Penaia Bale — eight quality defenders and only four will play unless they opt for five at the back which is highly unlikely given the quality of players and firepower they have upfront.
The likes of Turuva, Kalisito and Bale could even play in mid-field but it would be tough displacing the likes of Wama, Pita Bolaitoga, Ilisoni Logaivau and Taione Kerevanua, who I feel will be the first choice distributors.
In Jack and Maciu Dunadamu, they have two of the best marksmen and when facing the heat, they have in goal a top stopper in Akuila Mateisuva.
Bal Sanju Reddy is a good coach. He has been around for sometime and knows the players well. However, when you have a team full of stars, it could prove quite a handful. A lot will depend on how he uses them, whether he goes for a rotational policy or sticks to a regular starting 11. It will also be interesting to see how his thoughts blend in with those of co-coach Ivor Evans, who will reportedly join the team tomorrow.
You can have the finest players on the pitch but if the coach/coaches get their tactics and selection wrong, then even the best of the best will stumble — Messi and Maradona's 2010 World Cup disaster against Germany is a perfect example.
Gurjit Singh mapped out a 'perfect' strategy last year, let's see what Reddy and Evans come up with.
Their calls will be crucial and could well decide their fate in the championship.
Player to watch
Wama is their brandchild in mid-field. If you want to offer any resistance to the high-flying Babasiga Lions, then cage in this PNG ace.
If he takes command alongside Bolaitoga, then Dunadamu and Jack will have a field day with the opposition defence.
They will be in the semi-finals, but I do not see them winning the title. I feel their relatively easy run-in in pool play will prove to be their nemesis when the going gets tough on Sunday.
They simply won't be battle-hardened and ready for war on D-day.
Going forward won't be a problem but their defence will only be tested on the final day.
The IDC winner will come from the 'Pool of Death'.