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Ba FC v Team Wellington (Semi-Final Preview)

And the first hurdle on the way to the final on Sunday 26 April, is each other.
Team Wellington have made a flying start to their first OFC Champions League campaign, becoming one of two teams to progress to the knockout stage in their first appearance in this regional club competition.
And despite earlier reports that their loss in the domestic ASB Premiership semi-final put them out of the running for a spot at the 2016 edition of this competition; should the format remain the same, they’ll be back – and hope to be returning as defending champions.
Which is why they’re eager to get the semi-finals underway.
“We’re pretty excited, we’re well prepared and there is a real sense of anticipation – there’s a good feeling in the side,” says Team Wellington coach Matt Calcott.
While they’re about to take on a side that has six campaigns and a runners-up finish under their belts, Calcott believes his side has an equal amount of experience courtesy of their strategic recruitment process.
“Part of that recruitment strategy was to get players with Champions League experience that we perhaps didn’t have during the ASB Premiership,” he says.
Some of that experience comes in the form of Waitakere United journeymen Jake Butler, Chris Bale, Tim Myers and Aaron Scott, as well as Alex Feneridis formerly of Auckland City FC.
Between them they had 135 matches worth of experience in this competition and they have only added more during this campaign, with outstanding performances that highlight exactly why Calcott head-hunted them.
With an extra day’s rest compared with their opponent, Calcott says the side is well rested and after a 48 hour turnover between games two and three took things out of them.
Now they’re focusing on the task ahead and now that on ‘home’ soil, Ba are not going to be an easy beat.
“We’re very respectful of Ba. They’re the home club as such and so we know that it will be a full-on game, physical and potentially hostile home crowd – but we have to deal with it.”
For Ba, it’s another chance to put themselves forward as a strong regional contender, as well as cement themselves as a domestic player. And for coach Shalen Lal – it has been a continuation of the journey he started on as a player for this very club.
“This experience is not new to me because I played for Ba for close around 10 years,” he says.
“But being able to coach Ba, and at this level, is kind of a different experience again.”
Lal is also the assistant coach for the FIFA U-20 World Cup-bound Fiji side and recently attended the second-ever OFC B Licence, the learnings of which he says he’s been able to apply here at the 2015 Fiji Airways OFC Champions League.
“I just finished my B Licence and with the boys I’ve been putting in place what I learned. It’s a good opportunity for me, coming all this way at such a young age.”
He says a huge improvement has been seen in his side since the regional event got underway, and he’s pleased the lift in performance has seen them this far.
“There has been a big improvement – we’re sitting fifth in the national league because many small mistakes have been costing us.
“We spent two-and-a-half weeks in camp to straighten up what went wrong, we’ve worked hard and it has paid off.”
Two players in particular who have been outstanding for Ba in the competition are U-20 goalkeeper Misiwani Nairube and striker Saula Waqa.
“They have been instrumental in our campaign so far,” Lal says of the pair.
“They are both gaining valuable experience ahead of the U-20 World Cup; Saula is in form and currently leading in the goalscoring race, while Misi was awarded the role of captain for our last match and did a great job. They have both been excellent.”
Looking ahead to their next encounter, Lal says there is no denying Team Wellington pose a real threat to Ba’s hopes of making the final.
“We know Wellington will be good and we will have to match them. But we will be playing as we have played throughout this tournament – taking each game seriously.”
The second semi-final of the 2015 Fiji Airways OFC Champions League between Ba FC of Fiji and Team Wellington from New Zealand will get underway at 7pm at ANZ Stadium in Suva on Tuesday 21 April.
OFC Media

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