Figuiera says Island football improves alot

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Team Wellington captain Justin Gulley and coach José Figueria upon arrival yesterday at the Henderson International Airport.
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BY ROMULUS HUTA

TEAM Wellington head coach Jose Manuel Figuiera says the quality of club football across Oceania region is increasing.

Figuiera was in Honiara last week accompanying his club’s participation in the Oceania Club Champions League Group D competition.

Despite finishing at the top spot in Group D, Team Wellington had to dig deeper to give a good fight to achieve that.

The Englishman said during their group competition, their opponents gave them really good and strong performances.

“This shows that football in the region is fast improving and very soon they will be hard to beat if they keep on doing the right thing in their development.”

The top place finish in Pool D enabled Team Wellington to qualify into the quarterfinal with an advantage of playing at home when they host Group A runner-up Lae City Dwellers of Papua New Guinea on April 7, according to the draws released by the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Monday this week.

A win over the PNG outfit in the quarterfinal might possibly see them go up against Auckland City or Solomon Islands champions Solomon Warriors in a two-legged semifinal that will kick off on April 21.

“It’s good to know your passage all the way through and obviously there’s the cliche things of not looking too far ahead and making sure we do the job [against Lae City] first,” Figueira said.

“The quality of the teams across OFC is rising every year and we won’t be taking that quarterfinal lightly. And if we get through, and if it is Auckland, it will make for an exciting match for sure.

“It’s good to know your passage all the way through and obviously there’s the cliche things of not looking too far ahead and making sure we do the job [against Lae City] first,” Figueira said.

“The quality of the teams across OFC is rising every year and we won’t be taking that quarterfinal lightly. And if we get through, and if it is Auckland, it will make for an exciting match for sure.”

Wellington survived a scare in their opening match against group D hosts Marist, with substitute Angus Kilkolly salvaging a late 1-1 draw, before going on to beat Lupe o le Soaga 7-1 and AS Magenta 5-1 in much more comfortable fashion.

With the temperature soaring into the 30s, Figueira said it was tough going playing away from home in the Solomon Islands, with many of his players describing the Marist clash as the toughest they had ever played.

But they won’t have to worry about the foreign conditions in the quarterfinals, Figueira admitting it was a “huge advantage” to host the playoff in Wellington.

“We arrived in the Solomon Islands a couple of days before [our first game] and even then it still took some time to get used to the conditions, so having that home quarterfinal is big for us and we’re glad to have it.”

For now, Wellington turn their attention back to the ISPS Handa Premiership, facing Canterbury United in their penultimate match of the regular season this weekend.

Roy Kayara, who returned to New Caledonia following a family bereavement after their opening Oceania Champions League match in Honiara, is due back in Wellington this weekend but will miss the Canterbury game.

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