We could have been here praising an organized team, well-managed that brought in the right pieces to compose a team good enough to proceed to the knock-out stage in a hard group having the likes of Auckland City and AS Vénus.
If we could not be celebrating a good campaign, we could at least praise the good fight of a team that could not qualify for the quarterfinals of OFC Champions League, but played a good game and the usual details of football prevented them to go ahead in the regional tournament.
Unfortunately for the most traditional football team of Fiji, the story to be told is completely different from the one they expected: Ba made their worst ever campaign at OFC Champions League. This was the 12th appearance of the Men in Black – in none of the past eleven they had so bad records.
The efforts to retain two foreigners from the past season (Darold Kakasi and Micah Tommy) and to bring important players from another districts, as Beniamino Mateinaqara, Benjamin Totori and Samuela Drudru proved not enough. The management of Ba also approached the Ni-Vanuatu international Jason Thomas to sign for their team, but the player decided to represent the rivals Lautoka at OFC Champions League. To fill the spot left by Thomas, Ba signed the strong central defender from Papua New Guinea Alwin Komolong.
Ba also made an ambitious move outside the pitch: the Fijian side selected the New Zealand football legend Ricki Herbert as the new head coach of Ba for the OFC Champions League – one of the most important moves of Fijian football history.
The team had enough time to prepare for the competition – they played just one game of Vodafone Premier League, receiving a green-light from Fiji FA to focus on their trainings for their biggest challenge of the season. They knew they would have an even-stronger Auckland City than in the previous years, a good side of AS Vénus playing at home and the Samoan representatives, coming from the preliminary stage, that were nowhere near a threat for the Fijian powerhouse.
The problems started to appear before their debut against the hardest team of the pool: Auckland City. Ricki Herbert had 16 players to choose from, he was forced to make several changes to the usual Ba starting lineup. The team started the match with 6 attacking players against a very strong side as Auckland City. Darold Kakasi, a natural attacker, was placed as right-back, while the tall striker Saula Waqa played mostly as a central midfielder.
Ba could have played much better if the Papua New Guinean import Alwin Komolong was there – but he could not debut. Ba seemed to have problems in players’ registration alongside OFC. Ba was not expect to beat Auckland City, but it is not always a good sign to suffer a 6-0 defeat. If Ba had more natural defenders in their squad – Herbert could not do magic with that team – the result could had been less worse.
The peak of the humiliation came against the Samoan side of Lupe o le Soaga. Ba had to win this match to keep their chances to proceed to the quarterfinals alive. Theoretically, the Fijians were heavy favourites – never a team from Samoa won a match at OFC Champions League – Group Stage. The story was different after 45 minutes: the Samoans were up by 4-0 – what happened to Ba?
In the final part of the game the Men in Black came with a total different mentality, scored three goals through Malakai Tiwa, Saula Waqa and Samuela Drudru – still not enough to bounce back: Ba is the first team to lose for a Samoan side ever at OFC Champions League – Group Stage. A team couting on the likes of Benjamin Totori, Samuela Drudru and Ilimotama Jese suffered four goals from Lupe o le Soaga in less than 45 minutes – could create any defensive trouble for the Samoans, just in the second half they realized the shame they were in and tried to make something, but still not enough.
The fans shown all their frustration in social media: blaming the team management, local players, foreign players, the coach – no one from Ba was saved from the heavy critics of the Men in Black supporters. It was not only a shame for Ba, but one of the worst moments of Fijian football ever. We can certainly say the Samoans improved, but it is not a possibility in a tournament as OFC Champions League to play like Ba did in that match.
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The Fijian’s hopes to proceed were near to zero when they entered the pitch against the home side AS Vénus. Something seemed to change as Samuela Drudru scored at the 2nd minute of play for Ba and Totori after a penalty kick scored in the rebound eight minutes later to put the Fijians ahead by 2-0. They were fighting for pride. But it all demolished still in the first half: the comeback was complete before the break by the Tahitian side – the efforts of the Fijians did not worth much as the 3-2 was already written in the scoreboard. In the second half, despite creating some goalscoring chances, AS Vénus was the team to add another to the scoresheet and claim their spot in the next round by winning Ba by 4-2. This was the last act by Ba at OFC Champions League 2020.
The only time of Ba football history at OFC Champions League that the team lost all their matches in the regional tournament it was 15 years ago; the tournament did not even had the name as today and the same format. Ba lost in a home-away elimination playoff their two matches – something very different from the 2020 edition.
14 goals suffered and 5 scored; 0 points collected; Management and technical mistakes; Players not allowed to play due still unknown reasons; A lack of team spirit – a lot of individuality in the field of play. This was Ba at OFC Champions League 2020 – a total disaster, for them and for Fijian football.
Time for a change.