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NFL thrills and spills

Rashneel Kumar Rashneelk@Fijitimes.Com.Fj
Thursday, January 23, 2014

THE fact that the bottom placed team in this year's Fiji Sun/Skipper Tuna National Football League will be demoted to premier grade is good enough to believe it will be an exciting football season.

The start wasn't that bright though for at least two top teams, who are undoubtedly, in the eyes of many, contenders of the 2014 NFL title.

Labasa fans flocked the ANZ Stadium as usual hoping for a firing start only to be disappointed with the 1-2 loss at the hands of hosts Suva.

Lautoka, obviously the favourites over Nadroga, succumbed to a 1-2 defeat to minnows while Rewa lived up to expectations and overcame Navua 2-1.

So the season starts with at least something in common — the 2-1 scoreline.

Suva 2 Labasa 1

On paper, Labasa is probably the best, balanced side in the country.

But on field, it is one of the most inconsistent teams in the domestic competition.

Labasa coach/player Pita Bolaitoga opted for the 4-3-3 formation against Suva, a strong midfield to launch the attack from.

The idea was to get on the flanks and get the crosses in, they successfully did that once and scored through Joseph Mishra.

Suva coach Gurjit Singh played the 4-5-1 formation which worked well for the side.

Knowing that fitness will be their downfall, he opted for a lone striker in Samuela Drudru, concentrating much in the midfield play.

The idea was to clog the Labasa midfield and set up through balls for speedy Drudru, who did well to outrun the Labasa defenders and score the opening goal.

He later assisted Nickel Chand to slam in the winner in the second spell after being set up in counter play.

Rewa 2 Navua 1

Rewa would have scored more goals if coach Marika Rodu had not taken Iosefo Verevou out in the opening spell.

But Rodu had other ideas, he wanted Verevou to rest for national duties with the Fiji under-20 side and at the same time give his new players some game time.

The Rewa strike force lacked firepower following Verevou's departure but the side did well to maintain their pressure on Navua.

Given the quality forwards, Rodu opted for the 4-2-3-1 formation to allow its forwards to play with width and get Navua to cover more ground.

It worked well in the opening spell and when Navua transformed its 5-3-2 defensive formation into attack, they seemed to have had the game under control.

But lack of quality and experienced strikers saw the opportunities go begging.

Rewa scored through Verevou and Apisai Smith while Jesoni Takala pulled one back for Navua.

Nadroga 2 Lautoka 1

A brilliant effort from the Stallions, guided by old hands in brothers Peni Finau and Leone Vurukania, the minnows has emerged as a force to reckon with this season.

Nadroga has been the giant killers in local football and has earlier knocked big teams such as Ba and Labasa.

The win over Lautoka is a sign of the urgency in the side led by its president and former player Vijay Singh.

Nadroga's solid defence stood out while Lautoka's inability to score when presented with chances came back to haunt them at the end.

Nadroga's goals came from Finau and Shivneel Sharma while Leisari Qalica scored for Lautoka.

Rewa versus Lautoka (Ratu Cakobau Park, Nausori on Saturday 7pm)

Lautoka will come back fired up with the intention to remain competitive in the early rounds of the competition.

They surely need a win but will they overcome a strong looking Rewa side is a tough question to answer.

Obviously lacking experience in the side, the Dennis Singh-coached Lautoka will need a tight game plan to keep the sharp Delta Tigers strike force at bay.

Rewa obviously the favourites in the match may pay for any laxity like that displayed against Navua.

(Prediction - Rewa to win by two goals)

Labasa versus Nadroga (Subrail Park, Labasa on Saturday at 1.30pm)

What Labasa really needs is to invest in a fulltime coach who can dictate the game from the sideline and set up a game plan that suits them.

Pita Bolaitoga is doing his best in his capacity as coach/player but with the calibre of players, the team could do way better.

Individual and casual play has been the downfall of the side for sometime, while they do play entertaining game on most occasions, what matters at the end of the day is the score line.

With forwards such as Taione Kerevanua, Joseph Mishra, Edwin Sahayam, Bolaitoga, Misaele Draunibaka and Ilisoni Logaivou, they need a better strategy to maximise their work on the field.

Defence is another problem with the Babasiga Lions and fitness of the experienced hands would be the telling factor this weekend.

(Prediction - Labasa to win by a goal)

Suva versus Navua (ANZ Stadium, Suva on Sunday at 3pm)

With key players expected to be back in the side, Suva will be stronger than ever.

While it's current format looks deadly but up against a team like Navua, which plays defensive game, it will be hard for striker Drudru to sneak in.

But coach Gurjit Singh knows better and will definitely come up with a strategy best suited on the day of play.

He definitely needs to sharpen the striking force and Drudru needs to get that finishing touch missing in him at the moment.

For Navua, playing defensively would be the best option and with players such as Netani Doli, Inoke O'Connor and Jesoni Takala upfront, they can pose some serious threat on Suva defenders.

(Prediction - Suva to win by two goals)

Player of the round: Shahil Dave comes from a football family with his father and siblings well known referees. This Suva youngster, who has climbed through the ranks to make the senior team, showed potential of a great future on the field.

Quote of the week: "But it was the first game of the season and I won't be pressing any panic button just for now. We'll bounce back," Lautoka coach Dennis Singh after his side lost to Nadroga.

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