Much like they controlled the first legs of their respective semi-finals, Team Wellington and Latuoka are both looking to gain an advantage from Sunday’s OFC Champions League Leg 1 Final at David Farrington Park in Miramar.
The two finalists both have a lot to prove.
For Team Wellington this is their opportunity to step out of the shadow of Auckland City, a move they started when they knocked the reigning champions out of running to claim an eighth straight Oceania title.
Under José Figueira the side has flourished.
A strong commitment to the team playing style, tactical flexibility, focus and organisation are all part of the team ethos.
But in addition, the players in this squad are all working not only for themselves, but for each other.
Figueria said part of that is the environment he has tried to cultivate, part of it an organic evolution inside the group.
“Our job as coaches is to help the players showcase themselves on the field and I think you see that in this group. They really enjoy the way we play and they work extremely hard for each other,” he said.
With the atmosphere and approach sorted, the focus for Team Wellington is on the task at hand – the final of the OFC Champions League.
The difficulty is that they need to once again perform over two legs.
“We showed all different types of personality in the two semi-final games,”
“We showed that we’re a team that can control the ball, can create chances, can dominate through attacking and scoring goals.
“But likewise, we’re going to have to roll our sleeves up, work hard, be focused and believe in the way we play and ensure we follow that – and our instincts – to get us over the line.”
But Team Wellington aren’t the only side with an eye on the prize.
As the first Fijian club to make the final of the region’s premier international club competition since 2007, Lautoka have the weight of a nation on their shoulders.
“It’s very important not only for Lautoka, but for Fiji,” coach Kamal Swamy said.
“If we do good and if we qualify, it lifts our country’s football and we will have a lot of opportunities for our players to see overseas clubs when they meet in the Club World Cup.”
Lautoka captain Benaminio Mateinaqara agrees with his coach’s belief that these two matches and their potential outcome is about more than just the club.
“It’s a big thing for us, especially for a team like Lautoka because we’re representing not just the team, but Fiji as well,” he explained.
“It’s a proud moment for the team, for the players. We’re also representing our families and we’ve all, including them, sacrificed a lot to be here.
“We just want to go and play for them, play for the country and come back with a good result.”
It’s completely within Lautoka’s ability to be the thorn in Team Wellington’s side.
The club has already shown they are capable of holding their own against a regional powerhouse.
The 1-0 loss in the final group stage encounter was a considered display of the team at its best.
While victories against AS Dragon and Marist in the quarter finals and semi-finals respectively showed they’re also capable of more than just defending but being able to strike exactly when the time is right.
Of course, consideration has been made by both sides of the only previous meeting between them, two friendlies in Lautoka back in December 2017.
While they were fairly comprehensive wins for the visitors there’s no assumptions being made now, based on those results.
“Lautoka has got a team of many strengths, filled with many international players,” Figueira said.
“We know them very well. I think they’re a very powerful attacking team, similar to ourselves, and I think they’ll be trying to impose themselves on the ball especially in those attacking moments, those transition moments.
“We need to make sure we’re well organised when we’re on the ball to try and limit those opportunities.”
Swamy wasn’t present for the friendly matches but has seen the video and said Lautoka’s squad has changed since then, as has Team Wellington’s.
“We played with seven regular players not in the team. I think the second game Lautoka managed better, but even the Wellington coach has said that this time will be different,” he said.
“Yes, Team Wellington is a good team, we respect them and it will be a good game I am certain.”