The Lautoka TIV soccer side are firm favorites to retain their sangam title heading into the 87th TISI Sangam Convention to be held in Lawaqa Park, Sigatoka over the easter weekend. The side which comfortably won the tournament held at their home turf last year know that retaining the title would not be an easy task as their would several hurdles on the their way to successfully defending their title.
The side who have been training under the guidance of Lambert Sarju have a very experienced squad and have also injected a few young recruits in the squad. Leading the charge for the Sugar City boys would be evergreen striker Salesh Sami ‘Bula’ who scored the winning goal in the final last year to help Lautoka to victory of Suva along with midfield general Alvin Avinesh and rugged defender Madre Viran. The Lautoka side has also registered district reps Arvindra Naidu and speedy Justin Edwards along with Zibraaz Sahib who has been rated among the best players in the local soccer scenes to help them retain the prestigious Sangam title.
Although the inclusion of experienced players would have certainly strengthened the Lautoka Sangam outfit, they could expect to face tough competition from the likes of newly promoted Labasa, Newline Chemical sponsored Suva, Nadi, Malolo and the Ba side who all have included several district reps in their squads. The Suva side who are likely to have Dinesh Mudaliar and Sandeep Nair in their squad have lost out in two consecutive finals and would be looking at going a step further this year by claiming the title away from Lautoka.
The overseas teams of Middlemore and Hamilton also pose a severe threat to Lautoka’s title defence given their impressive performances in past tournaments. The Hamilton outfit from New Zealand have always looked a threat coming into the Sangam tournaments with the inclusion of former district reps in their squad.
The side also won the tournament in 2005 and 2010 and with players like former Ba and Fiji team rep Salesh Kumar, former Lautoka and Fiji under 20 striker Sumeet Shankaran along with former Ba rep Dinesh Lingam would surely be top contenders in the tournament.
The second New Zealand side Middlemore who have made two consecutive semi final appearance have not always had the services of experienced players like their compatriots but showed real determination and spirit in the previous tournaments and have been marshalled well by their experienced former Fiji team goalkeeper Nicholas Lawrence and would be a team to look out for to string some surprises in the 4 day tournament.
The largest religious tournament in the country kicks-off on Friday the 18th of April at Lawaqa Park in Sigatoka and defending champions Lautoka TIV kick start their campaign against Labasa at 1.10pm.