ALL eyes were on players like Simon Peters, Epeli Kosa, Sam Work, Ravuama Madigi and others but the champions' inspiration came from an unlikely source.
The 1986 Battle of the Giants was held at Prince Charles Park, Nadi. Defending champions Lautoka and high flying Ba were the favourites.
Suva had not done much after the 1981 and 1983 IDC victories while Labasa, as always, were the dark horses. Rewa, Tailevu Naitasiri and Nasinu were barely given a chance in the build-up while Nadi had eleventh hour problems.
Nadi had their coach Mani Naicker sacked a few days before the tournament. The Nadi FA claimed he gave negative reports to the media regarding how the players were being treated in camp. The players backed Mani but were powerless to do anything. Nadi stopper Savenaca Waqa was chosen as player/coach for the tournament.
Nadi and Labasa had early setbacks. Work thumped home a winner as Lautoka edged Nadi 1-0 while Madigi and lanky Lote Delai scored for Ba as the northerners, featuring 20-year-old Peters, were beaten 0-2.
Nadroga stunned Rewa 2-0 with goals from Archie Watkins and George Ali while Suva edged past Nasinu 2-1 with strikes from Tony Kabakoro and Ilaitia Isoa. Nadi then hit back to beat Nadroga 1-0, courtesy of a goal from long throw specialist Peter Dean, who was making a comeback after two years out with a knee injury.
Lautoka won Nadi's pool. Nadroga stood a chance to qualify with them but a drawn game and beaten by Rewa and Nadi saw the Coral Coast boys drop out with claims of 'fix' by the home team and the already out Delta Tigers. In the semi-finals, Nadi edged Ba 1-0 with a George Hicks goal while Labasa upset Lautoka 4-1 on a penalty shoot-out. Missing from the spot for the Blues were Poasa Tubuna, Wally Mausio and Kelemedi Vosuga.
So Nadi, with players like Rusiate Waqan, Dean, Waqa, Mohammed Aiyub, Radha Krishna, Inosi Tora, Savenaca Taga, Mike Ravula and Kini Tubi, took on Labasa. The Babasiga Lions had the likes of Dennis Singh, Vula Rokoqica, Milton Simmons, Kishore Kumar, Anand Sami, Peters, Ratu Loco and Bai Waqailiti. Stopper Waqailiti had an outstanding game and since there was no breakthrough, the match ended up in extra time.
With about 45 seconds left in the second spell of extra time, school teacher Praveen Singh struck home a sweetly-taken volley to send the Nadi fans into a frenzy. The man who had guided Nasinu into the top flight with a similar goal against Tailevu Naitasiri in 1982, had done it again, but this time on a bigger stage. He was not the only Nadi hero. Substitute keeper Osea Sova did well whenever he was asked to come on in the semi-final and final when Waqa got injured.