Labasa coach Imtiaz Khan says change in formation and player rotation helped them beat Navua 2-1 and successfully defend their 2023 Rooster Chicken/Scoops Ice Cream Battle of the Giants tournament at the HFC Bank Stadium in Suva on Sunday.
Khan said after a thrilling semifinal against Fiji FACT champs and Digicel Fiji Premier League leaders Lautoka on Saturday, they had to change their playing style and make some positional shifts to counter Navua.
“I loved to talk about the strategies I use. We had a different approach in the first half even though we had a different formation yesterday. Today we picked up in the second half, what we did was change our formation and rotate the players within the team and that’s all we discussed before the game as to what we will do at half time,” Khan revealed to FijiLive.
“I play around with formations depending on what the other team does. Today we started with 4-5-1 and then we shifted to playing 4-1-3-2 in the next half with numbers in front. I chose the formation if I saw the numbers have the ability to play in that form. If we have the ability and players, we can win.”
“In the match against Ba, we were 1-0 down but when we changed our formation to 3-4-3, we managed to get the win. These guys never played 3-4-3, it’s just standing on the formation and we changed it. Even when scoring, we had numbers. We saw a difference in formation and the mentality of the players. I don’t have to sit and explain to them on each position, they are national reps and know how to perform at their positions.”
Khan also highlighted that rather than focusing and wasting their time on thinking what Navua would bring to the table, the northerners worked on their weaknesses and utilised all their strength in the match.
“Whenever I coach, I don’t talk about the other team. I always talk about our weaknesses and strengths which I did before the game. I asked the players about the weaknesses and what we lacked which we knew Navua would sit and think of as well.”
“We knew what we had; our main strength was the fans which we collectively took advantage of. When the drum beats we know they are behind us. That’s where the heart beats, the pumping, work rates increase and that’s what exactly happened. I would like to thank the spectators for boosting our spirit and Suva is our homeground.”
“Nobody can say that we were tired, I know how fatigued my players were. They might leave football for a week but make a strong comeback.”
Khan also mentioned that Navua had a weak game plan and he didn’t feel too surprised with their performance after an impressive victory over Suva in the semifinal on Saturday.
“I wanted to see what Navua does but surprisingly they didn’t do much as an opposing coach I feel that. I was expecting something more from Navua, like hitting us hard and pressuring us while we were tired from playing a lot of games in the last two weeks.”
“They just played one game yesterday and they sat back and waited which we took advantage of. We had an attacking team and had enough players to do that. I took the strength of the Labasa team and got the job done.”
While thanking his hardworking players, Khan said the Babasiga Lions fans played the role of the 12th man backing the northerners at the HFC Bank Stadium which he feels is their lucky ground.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised because of the two sessions I took but I would like to thank the boys for the win which is for our team, their families and the fans. The credit goes directly to the players. I respect what they have done in the last four games including DFPL which wasn’t easy.”
“They have given respect to me, to the sport and that’s why we had discipline on and off the pitch. If you compare us to other top teams, we had nothing. We had discipline, the players’ standard was there and they listened.”
“I’m not saying that I’ve done the job, instead the credit goes to the players for doing a marvelous job. The last time I was here with this feeling was back in 1995 and today it’s again Navua, the same team we’ve beaten as a coach.”
He added while the team will go back and celebrate its victory, the side will utilise its remaining league games as a build-up for the 2023 Courts Inter District Championship which is just three weeks away.
“The players touched my approach and what we want to do as a whole team and I feel if we keep this team at this momentum, I think we could achieve a lot.”
“IDC is coming and after winning BOG, we won’t call ourselves underdogs, we’ll work as champions.”