Team Wellington have set themselves up for a strong final showdown in this year’s OFC Champions League in Fiji after beating Lautoka 6-0 at David Farrington Park in Wellington on Sunday afternoon.
“I’m delighted,” were the first words from Team Wellington coach José Figueira at the final whistle.
“You go into a final wanting to, in the first leg, put ourselves in a good position for the second leg and I thought especially in the second half we went up in the gears.
“It was great to see the boys keep a foot on the throttle and keep attacking so obviously, just delighted with the result today.”
It was a slow start to a match in which the men from New Zealand’s capital went in as firm favourites after having to make do with the runners-up medal for the past three years in-a-row.
But having done the business of knocking defending champions Auckland City out in the semi-finals, today’s game would mark the start of a new era of football in Oceania regardless of the result.
When Ross Allen finished a fantastic ball in from Roy Kayara in the 16thminute it certainly felt like a repeat of Team Wellington’s quarter final blowout victory over Lae City Dwellers could be on the cards.
However, the goal gods didn’t appear to be shining on a strike force that normally fires with such precision. Four shots in the first half were sent flying out of the park, and that seemed to be the tone for Team Wellington’s efforts.
Nathanael Hailemariam struggled to get a plethora of chances on target, although the effort from Beniamino Mateinaqara shouldn’t be overlooked with the keeper doing a fine job of keeping his team in the race.
That may have been something to do with a heavily defensive approach taken by their opponents Lautoka. The Fijians went into the game hoping to keep things level for the first half with plans to start pressing much higher in the second half.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way for Kamal Swamy’s squad.
Although the coach hoped that his side would come out hungry to bring themselves back into contention for the second half things didn’t go exactly to plan.
They held up strong for the first 15 minutes or so, which had Swamy feeling encouraged but when substitute Jack-Henry Sinclair put the ball in the back of the net with a close-range tap-in heads dropped along with morale for Lautoka.
Andy Bevin won possession on the edge of the box before receiving the ball back and firing low for Team Wellington’s third before a masterclass from Mario Barcia took them to four.
It really fell apart for the visitors in the 64thminute when Praneel Naidu, a hero for Lautoka in the semi-final, received a straight red for a late sliding challenge from behind on New Caledonian Roy Kayara.
Now down to ten men with a four-goal deficit to try and overcome, Lautoka could have rallied and tried to stem the flow. However Wellington weren’t quite done.
A poor clearance from the visitors allowed Sinclair to steal a brace with a cheeky side-foot chip of the keeper.
Defender Taylor Schrijvers then closed out Team Wellington’s account for the first leg with an 84thminute header neatly placed between Mateinaqara and his near post.
For Swamy, there’s now a lot to consider ahead of the second leg at Churchill Park after a forgettable 90 minute performance from his side.
“We did not expect it,” he said of the eventual result.
“But I think Wellington was the better team.
“In the first half we wanted to defend and in the second half we wanted to be pressing them. But we conceded a goal,” Swamy continued.
“In the second half we did start well but after the goal was conceded the morale went down and that is what is football and that’s why we suffered today.”
While the win was one objective for Team Wellington today, Figueira said it was also about putting in a good performance, which his players achieved.
“I think just the way we were so determined and passionate to have the ball and attack was a highlight for me today.
“We wanted to dominate the game by attacking and being in the other team’s half as much as possible and we did that for really huge periods,” he said.
“I guess the combination of the season’s work at this stage of the campaign, we’re looking right at the top of our game and really sharp so that’s a testament to the work that goes on behind the scenes, but to the players too.”
Team Wellington will know travel to Lautoka, Fiji for the second leg of the OFC Champions League final on Sunday 20 May at Churchill Park from 2pm.