Crunch Match

As a child when we used to play in the mighty Strides FC down on Chesham Moor one of the parents used to kindly volunteer and write up a match report. So as it was coming to a close I thought best to try and do something similar. All credit of this idea goes to Simon Standish.

It was a relatively coolish afternoon in South East Asia for that afternoons game. Well, cool for Cambodia.  We arrived knowing this was a crunch match. If we lost, we would not be going to the quarter finals. If we won or draw, we would be. We had worked incredibly hard for this. We had had some tough games in the run up to this 6 pointer. Memorable games as well. Perhaps if we had won games we drew, and drew games we lost, we might not have needed to worry about this game. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. We were the youngest team in the tournament by far. Our average age was about 20. The other teams were probably 25+. They had experience on us, we had energy on them.

The lads were raring to go. The team we were playing had slowly been creeping up the league after changing most of their players. They had some quality but we knew how to shut them out. Due to unforeseen circumstances football training and friendlies were not played in preparation for this game.  Was that a mistake? We would soon find out. The team talk was held. Do it for the supporters today, do it for our defender with a broken leg, do it for me, do it for yourselves. The flame was lit inside of them.

The referees blew the whistle, handshakes and bows were done. The teams lined up and off we went. We started lethargically. Not much energy, no focus. Green Max smelt blood, they attacked from the off. Within two minutes, they had passed themselves through our defence and from about 12 yards out from the left hand side they shot past out goalkeeper into the right hand corner. 1-0 down. The worst possible start. The team that needed a win desperately could now sit, defend and frustrate. We had never had to deal with this before. To break a team down, the one thing we hadn't learnt to do.
Their key midfield player had decided to play in defence. This meant he could ping the ball and recycle possession all day long. I, playing in midfield, could not get close.  This doesn't mean we didn't have our chances. I got a knocked down ball, saw our striker with his blindingly bright green new boots making a run in behind, scooped it over, he got onto it. We were all screaming shoot, everyone was leaning forward in their seats, wishing and willing him to score. He did shoot! He fluffed it a bit but it was going over the keeper! It was a goal! Come on! I can remember it now! The slow motion movement of it all. It hit the underside of the crossbar and unlike Lampard 2010 no goal line technology was needed, it bounced away. We, of course, screamed goal. We all knew it wasn't though. That pretty much set us for the rest of the game.

We had many chances from many different players. Even two phantom goals! Two crosses from myself to our target man, who finally had learnt to head the ball. It was in! I screamed and yelped and jumped for joy. Then wondered why no-one else was. Much like English grassroots football the side netting had a hole in it. Twice, our striker found that small hole but not the net! We hit the post a couple of times, the bar a couple more times. At one point, I was sat in front of the goalie after falling over and the ball came into the danger area and I tried heading it in from a sitting position. Cleared off the line. Clearly need to practice my heading from sitting down!

We did have some luck though. Our second goalkeeper was in nets. Only second purely by the fact the other goalkeeper is just slightly better and older. The attacker was brought down in the box. Penalty. Soft, but a penalty all the same. Yellow card as well! In these nets and this tournament unless the player actually misses or puts it down the middle, it's generally a goal. With fingers crossed and prayers said. The player stepped up and put it down the left side. Our goalkeeper dived to his right and made the save! Strong hands to put it round for a corner. Our hearts swooped! Always rated our goalie! We were still in this.

Our striker with his new boots wasn't firing on all cylinders. Slow to shoot and when he did it was going over. My shooting wasn't much better. But for love nor money that ball wasn't going in. Whipped in crosses were being cleared whereas previously they may have been own goals or handballs. Shoots were being fluffed, or going past the post. It just wasn't going.

Then as we were throwing players at this impenetrable wall  of skin and football boot. We won a corner they got the ball and quickly countered. A ball over the top and a mix up from our two most experienced players, the defender and goalkeeper, meant that the attacker ran round them picked up the ball and passed it across the pitch for the other player to score into an open net. Against the run of play but they smelt blood and they took it well. 2-0. Mountain to climb.

Then the ugly side came. We have never had too much luck with referees this tournament whether due to our youthfulness or what, I don't know. That day was just another level. There were at least two or three penalty shouts from handballs or pushing. They were leaving feet in, they were stepping on players boots. Bullying. Pure bullying. To frustrate and distract. These kids haven't experienced it. So it's another lesson learnt. Although it's a shame they had to do that. We had our other foreigner square up to one of their players after constant little kicks and pushes. The funny thing is, our guy is about 195cm and the guy that pissed him off was about up to his waist. The other player knew he'd made a mistake and backed off pretty rapidly. I was swearing at refs. It got to a point where a player bounced off me and fell over, then quickly it went for a goal kick which I didn't see. I thought the ref was calling a foul on me. So I gave him a few choice words (in English) which the crowd didn't understand but they knew from the intonation. Then when I turned around and realised my mistake. I had to laugh and the crowd followed suit after. I apologised to the ref afterwards.  RESPECT and all that.

Then it was over. There were tears. We had a team meeting. I let them know that we have all learnt so much. Don't stop now. This was all experience and how they can be proud of themselves. I am really proud to have played with these guys and to call myself; coach and captain of COP. Hopefully we can get them into an U-17 tournament and they'll tear it up with their new found experience.

End result: Green Max 2 - 0 COP

Consequence: Knocked out the tournament. Final position in the league 9th out of 16. 
The team - The one time I don't smile, they do.
Check out No.11 new bright green boots, trying to blind defenders.
Do it for yourselves.