Lautoka has only ever made it as far as a second-place finish in the Group Stage of the OFC Champions League once before, and that was eight years ago.
The in-form team has an opportunity to go even further this year but standing in their way is an equally determined Marist side who are keen to write add a page to their history books as well.
Marist last appeared in this competition in 2010 as well, where a lone draw against Vanuatu side Tafea FC was the only bright spot in an otherwise disappointing campaign for the side.
That same year they lost twice to Lautoka who won two other matches to ensure they finished second in Group B, just behind eventual winners Hekari United.
The fact the two sides met in 2010, with Lautoka prevailing on both occasions, is not the only link to the past. The coach of Hekari United at the time was Jerry Allen, who is leading the charge for Marist in his native Solomon Islands, and the likes of Joachim Waroi and Henry Fa’arodo were in the Hekari squad at the time.
The pair are now at Marist and whether the results of the past are a sign of what’s to come for the semi-finals, Allen certainly hopes so.
“It’s the second time I’ve played Lautoka myself. The first time I was with Hekari and we qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup in 2010,” he said.
“We beat them then, but now it’s a different game. Some of the boys I know very well like Osea (Vakatalesau), Benji Totori and Brian Kaltack. I’ve been coaching them so I know them.”
Allen is confident his knowledge of those players and the systems employed by his opponents will be the difference for his side, but he is also aware it’s going to be a very difficult encounter nonetheless.
“It’s going to be very tough, especially away from home.”
The opportunity to use their home ground to their advantage is an opportunity Lautoka is keen to seize with both hands.
The team has impressed in their campaign so far with their ability to keep up with defending champions Auckland City in the final Group C encounter one of the highlights.
Despite going down to ten men the side were only beaten by one goal. They then went on to see off the Group B table toppers AS Dragon in the quarter final in Tahiti.
With this the first match of the competition for the Fijians on home soil they’re feeling encouraged about having home support and being able to bring Champions League football back to the city for the first time since 2015.
“It’s quite good to go outside and do well and to then come back and play in front of our home crowd,” Lautoka coach Kamal Swamy said.
“For us, the boys are really excited to be playing at home because we haven’t been able to so far in the campaign. I hope we can perform in front of the home fans and reward them for their support.”
Lautoka FC [FIJ] vs. Marist FC [SOL]
Semi-Final Leg 1
Sunday 22 April
Kick-off: 15h00 local (15h00 NZL / 14h00 SOL)
Referee: Campbell Kirk WAUGH (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: Mark RULE (NZL)
Assistant Referee 2: Jeremy GARAE (VAN)
Fourth Official: Robinson BANGA (VAN)
Click here for the live stream
Please note – the live stream will not be accessible in Fiji.
Vital Statistics: Lautoka’s best finish in the OFC Champions League was their fourth place in 2010. That year they met Marist in the group stage winning the first match 3-1 and the return leg 3-0.
The Players:It’s obvious Lautoka’s three foreign players bring a lot of experience, talent and stability to the squad. However, the rest of the team can’t be discounted with Dave Radrigai putting in some impressive shifts in the middle of the park, while goalkeeper and captain Benaminio Mateinaqara does his bit to keep the side tight on defence and inspired on attack.
Coach Quote: “I don’t know much about the team really, but I know island nation football well and I know that Solomon Islands produces very skilful players. We will need to be weary, but I think we can adjust and cope well.”
Team List:1. Senirusi BOKINI (GK), 2. Edward JUSTIN, 3. Zibraaz SAHIB, 4. Shazil ALI, 6. Jone VESIKULA, 7. Dave RADRIGAI, 8. Kavaia RAWAQA, 9. Liesari QALICA, 10. Cory CHETTLEBURGH, 11. Praneel NAIDU, 14. Samuela DRUDRU, 15. Peni FINAU, 16. Osea VAKATALESAU, 17. Kolinio SIVOKI, 18. Arami VOLAVOLA, 19. Benji TOTORI, 20. Brian KALTACK, 22. Beniamino MATEINAQARA (GK)
Coach:Kamal SWAMY [FIJ]
Vital Statistics: The last player to score for Marist against Lautoka was current striker, 38-year-old Abraham Iniga who put one past the Fijians during the 2010 edition of the OFC Champions League. Marist lost the match 3-1.
The Players: The cool head of Henry Fa’arodo in the middle of the park will be key in terms of Marist retaining their structure and approach. For the backline, keeping fellow countryman Benji Totori in check will be a tough task but one Joachim Waroi, Michael Boso and Robert Laua will rise to.
Coach Quote: “I will try my very best to make sure I get things right here. We are going to give our best.”
Team List: 1. Anthony TALO (GK), 2. Joachim WAROI, 3. Michael BOSO, 5. Jeffery BULE, 6. Robert LAUA, 7. Atkin KAUA, 8. Henry FA’ARODO, 9. Abraham INIGA, 10. Timothy BAKALE, 11. Mathias IANI, 13. Natanela BERO, 14. Koriak UPAIGA, 18. Thomas AMASIA, 20. Davidson TOME, 21. Alvin RAY, 22. Harold NAUANIA, 24. Thomas TALOGA, 25. Joachim KAIRI
Coach:Jerry ALLEN [SOL]