October 10, 2016
Labasa has clinched the 2016 Courts Inter District Championship (IDC) title after beating defending champion Ba 2-1 in a pulsating final.
While the wet and overcast conditions somewhat affected the performance of the teams, the two giants of Fiji Football did not fail to impress the big crowd who braved the heavy rain to witness the much awaited and anticipated grand finale.
Ba opted to start Samuela Kautoga ahead of Laisenia Raura and rested midfielder Sitiveni Cavuilagi who had pulled a hamstring and sent in Labasa's 2011 IDC winning goal scorer Maciu Dunadamu in the starting line-up.
Labasa on the other hand retained the same lineup which featured in their 1-0 win over Nadi in the semifinal.
Defender Lekima Gonerau opened Labasa's account in the 6th minute with an adventurous drive from the right flank which took a bounce and went over a diving Ba goalkeeper Misiwani Nairube who mistimed his run in the slippery conditions.
Midfielder Pita Bolatoga neatly controlled the Labasa midfield and did not allow the Men In Black to settle in the first half while Captain and goalkeeper Akuila Mateisuva denied Saula Waqa and Samuela Nabenia as the Babasiga Lions took a 1-0 halftime lead.
With the heavy rain easing a bit, the second half had a lot of action and entertainment for the loyal die hard fans of the two districts.
Stylish striker Ratu Apenisa Anare doubled Labasa's lead in the 63rd minute after beautifully finishing off a neat pass from Gabriel Matanisiga. A mistake on the left flank allowed Edwin Sahayam the space and opportunity to walk in and set up Matanisiga who quickly turned away from Samuela Kautoga and sent in a low cross to Ratu Anare. The nippy marksman turned away from Alvin Singh and placed the ball to the left of Nairube giving him no chance at all.
Ba pulled one back in the 84th minute through Captain Avinesh Swamy from a corner kick which was misjudged by Mateisuva in the air.
The goal ignited the spirit of Ba players and somewhat put pressure on Labasa as the dying moments of the final became more tensed yet exciting.
Replacement Ba striker Osea Vakatalesau failed to connect with a nicely set up pass by Swamy in the dying moments as Labasa's hardworking defence led by inspirational Taniela Waqa and ably supported by former Ba reps Remueru Tekiate and Praneel Naidu held on till the final whistle.
Propeller and Shaft Services sponsored Labasa received $20,000 for winning the tournament while Ba walked away with $5500 for reaching the final.
Ironically, the Babasiga Lions last won the title at the same venue and against the same opponent in 2011.
This is Labasa’s fourth IDC win, the others being in 2011, 1994 and 1992.
By Reginald Chandar