Reserve goalkeeper Senirusi Bokini became the hero of the day for Lautoka when two brilliant saves in a dramatic penalty shootout helped his side to a 5-3 victory in the Inter-district Championship final at Churchill Park on Sunday.
Bokini had sat through much of the tournament as Fiji international Beniamino Mateinaqara controlled the game from between the posts. However the first choice keeper injured his arm as Ba scored their second penalty giving Bokini an opportunity to step up – which he did.
The police officer stopped attempts from Malakai Rakula and Meli Codro to send the crowd into a frenzy.
“Bokini has always asked me, ‘when will you give me time to play?’,” Lautoka coach Kamal Swamy said.
“I told him to be patient and he will surely get a chance, and he did today.
“It was a tense game, we should not have conceded the goal which allowed Ba to come back into action.”
Swamy’s side had to battle against the odds almost from the outset after losing captain Ilatia Tuilau to a red card following a dangerous tackle on Ba striker Saula Waqa.
Although left with just ten men on the field, Lautoka didn’t retreat to their own half and were rewarded for their approach when Samuela Drudru was brought down in the penalty area by Codro.
Specialist from the spot, Zibraaz Sahib, stepped up and put the Blues 1-0 up with his on-target effort.
The odds evened out in the 32nd minute when Ba lost a man of their own, Laisenia Raura, for his challenge on goalscorer Drudru. Although Ba came very close to an equaliser ahead of the break, it wasn’t until the 54th minute that the Men in Black finally found the back of the net.
A Codro cross was whipped across the face of the goal, drawing goalkeeper Mateinaqara off his line and allowing Abu Zahid in behind to score.
The side’s couldn’t be separated at the end of 90 minutes sending the match into extra time, during which time Saula Waqa saw red for a challenge on Iliesa Lino.
Bokini’s heroics between the posts helped his side swing the result in their favour, with the penalty-takers also doing their job.
Ba captain Zahid said as expected, it was a challenging match the provided fans with plenty of entertainment.
“It was a tough final, we missed a lot of chances,” he said.
“We went to the wire and that is what football is about.”