Saturday, 9 June 2018

07/06/18 Review: Northern Cyprus vs Padania and Kárpátalya vs Székely Land

Northern Cyprus 3-2 Padania (CONIFA World Cup, Semi-Finals)
Colston Avenue [Match 1 of 2]

Following on from the adventures of my earlier Blog, a two game feast over at Sutton United's Gander Green Lane, I left the readers hooked on the edge of their seats as I did the unthinkable and departed a game early in an attempt to make it to Colston Avenue for the two CONIFA World Cup Semi-Finals- I may well have missed the final goal of Panjab's 5-0 win over Barawa, but was it worth it? Well, kind of. Dragging along fellow groundhopper Henry, we drove our way through Sutton and into Carshalton watching as the traffic added precious minutes on to our arrival time, knowing that if that game kicked-off on time we'd at least miss the first five minutes by this point. We arrived at 5:05pm and darted inside to see that although the game had already kicked-off, it had only done so but three minutes ago. The game that I'm talking about, of course, was the first of two that Carshalton would host this evening as Northern Cyprus took on Padania in what was arguably a battle between the best two sides to grace the tournament in many people's eyes. So far the Italian Padanians had conquered Group C in spectacular form with a 6-1 win over Matabeleland, an 8-0 trouncing of Tuvalu and a 3-1 against one the next Semi-Finalists in Székley Land, before defeating the number one ranked side Panjab in the Quarter-Finals. Northern Cyprus had started off the tournament in a shaky fashion and only just scraped through Group B after draws with Kárpátalya, also in the other Semi-Final, and current champs Abkhazia sandwiched a fairly unspectacular 3-1 win over Tibet. In the Quarter-Final they came into their own as they trounced the hosts Barawa by eight goals, but having only seen their results on paper I decided to back Padania for this match, predicting a 2-1 victory in this all-European affair.

Lovely ground for it too
In a week of exploring London's non-league scene I am delighted to say that I've continued to take in some magnificent sights of the capital city and in the time I've been here I have visited such a large variety of styles, capacities, levels and age of ground, which is what it's all about. Before the start of the World Cup, I had seen only four grounds inside the M25 and I had been impressed with pretty much all of them in one shape or another. Ship Lane was a stone cold classic and I was sad to see Thurrock's team dismantled after this season's conclusion, I obviously loved my trips to see Dulwich and Clapton at their respective legendary venues and on reflection even Wadham Lodge Stadium had a bit of something about it too. Carshalton's ground is another one to add to that great list now along with all of the CONIFA grounds I'd hopped over to during the tournament. And yes, I'm even including Haringey's Coles Park in that list.

To be fair, you could have plonked this one in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and he'd be happy
From what I'd seen upon arrival, the first ten minutes were pretty flavoursome and it genuinely did take me a moment to adjust from seeing the likes of Tamil Eelam and Tuvalu playing to watching some actually very good players. No offence. The opening chance that I was witness to came from Kenan Oshan's fairly memorable miss in the 10th minute, as the Turkish-Cypriot number 19 ran in, saw an on-rushing Marco Murriero, panicked and then curled the ball over the keeper's shoulder and over the bar in the process. The cagey and aggressive game continued to keep your eyes glued to the pitch, but I also couldn't help but notice the one Italian ultra absolutely singing his heart out to "Que Sera, Sera" whilst working his way through a large bottle of wine, so I decided to go and stand next to him as I knew the scenes would be emotional if Padania scored.

Quel che sarà sarà
The first goal of yet another thriller came in the 30th minute and when the Italian team got their first chance they were lethal with the finish. Padania's Riccardo Ravasi had already notched his opening tournament goal in the game I saw between them and Tuvalu, but the Grumellese Calcio forward had no issue with grabbing the game's opener as he converted to begin the passionate outburst from the Padania bench. N.Cyprus 0-1 Padania. Padania's lead would last only for a matter of minutes though and with a former Republic of Ireland Under 21 striker leading their line, Northern Cyprus could not be kept at arm's length for too long. Billy Mehmet, born in London and raised by West Ham United's youth academy, has lived out quite an illustrious career that started in Scotland with Dunfermline Athletic and St Mirren, before the bald forward made his way around the world to Turkey, Australia, Singapore and a couple of other nations, amassing over 100 career goals in the process, so it was needless to state that he would have a part to play in such a big occasion for Northern Cyprus. The number 99 forged his way into a shooting position after a clever turn before applying a tidy finish to an overall worked goal. N.Cyprus 1-1 Padania. And as if that wasn't enough leading into the break, we would be treated to one more goal as Giacomo Innocenti was given the ball on a silver platter and made absolutely no mistake in perfectly placing his finish out of Hasan Piro's reach. N.Cyprus 1-2 Padania. The game was certainly worthy of goals and although some would argue that Northern Cyprus had bossed the match so far in places, you cannot deny that Padania had a touch of class to their play and despite being forced off the ball quite a lot, they did use it well in possession and unlike the Italian National team it wasn't a display full of sideways passing. Mind you, England vs Costa Rica would be shown in the clubhouse during the second match here, so if that was what you fancied at least you could get a taste of your own delights.

Half-time pint, may as well
If you thought the first-half was tense, it was only going to grow as the second began and with Northern Cyprus chasing the game I had a feeling that a third Padania goal would be enough to see them through. Contrary to this though, it was all-out attack from the Cypriots and when Salih Say nodded a corner just wide of Marco Murriero's post in a moment that brought momentary silence to Colston Avenue. Murriero had kept up a good record of saves in his tournament so far and in the 80th minute he produced a great one from yet another corner. Unfortunately for the Calcio Derthona shot-stopper though, Halil Turan was there to tap the ball home and send the pockets of red shirted fans into raptures. N.Cyprus 2-2 Padania. The roof may not have been completely raised yet at the home of Carshalton Town, who had their fair share of celebrations this season whilst winning the Isthmian League Southern Division, but thanks to an amazing Northern Cyprus break we were about to say a phenomenal end to what had been the game of the tournament in my opinion. With just five minutes of regular time left, Northern Cyprus pulled out a lightening quick silky smooth break, which eventually culminated in the ball from the left coming to Billy Mehmet and the shiny headed striker tucked it home to the absolute glee of everyone in attendance, well almost everyone. N.Cyprus 3-2 Padania.

Only a 96th minute red card for a Padania side featuring ex-Lazio defender Marius Stankevičius could sour the match further for the Italians and as the Ref blew the final whistle it was time for Northern Cyprus to celebrate even more than they had been for the past ten minutes as they could finally say that they were in the Final. With that game resulting in a five-goal thriller, to add to the twelve we'd seen in Sutton earlier, surely the final Semi couldn't be any better.... could it?

On to the next one!

Kárpátalya 4-2 Székely Land (CONIFA World Cup, Semi-Finals)
Colston Avenue [Match 2 of 2]

Amazingly with 17 goals already witnessed in the day's action, we still had more to look forward to and with this Semi-Final coming between two Hungarian outfits it was bound to be a tasty tie. As all four sides left in the fight to become world champion came from Europe at this point, it was somewhat expected that there was a bit more of a fan representation and with Hungarians being quite prominent in the UK it was great to see them coming in to support Kárpátalya and Székely Land from no doubt pretty far and wide, and in particular the eastern Transylvanian Hungarians supporting the side playing in sky blue seemed to be in impressive form even before the game began. The match started a little after 8pm and in truth the opening 20 minutes seemed somewhat anticlimactic in comparison to what we'd all seen over the past three games. With few chances but some high-standard football on display, it was far from dull but also you felt a goal would help things settle.

Wave your flag, big en
The best chance in the first half an hour would come after the Székely keeper hit a clearance straight at Sandor Rozman and as the Kárpátalya striker looked to profit he could only be denied by some heroic defending by the backtracking silver fox at the heart of the opposing defence. We would thankfully see a goal before half-time and it would come from a piece of magic that even Leo Messi would have been proud of. György Toma managed to gain control in the box before pulling out a tricky run in which he dodged many an outstretched leg before slotting home for the first goal of the match. Kárpátalya 1-0 Székely. The big moment to follow would come in the 40th minute and after conceding a penalty and getting booked for taking out his opponent, Bela Fejer Csongor would then proceed to tip the spot-kick on to the post, before jumping back up to see a shot cleared off the line. Wow.

HT, 1-0
Some people would say that four matches is too much in one day, but having carried out this ultimate stamina test once before already this season during the GroundhopUK Western League weekend for Non-League Day, I can tell you that 360 minutes really does fly by when the football is as good as it had been here- especially within these Semi-Finals. With the game poised for a roller coaster of a second-half, we moved around to behind the Kárpátalya goal in anticipation of the feast. We saw the opening 15 minutes start in a similar slow and tactical vein to that of the first 45, but with Toma on form the goals were bound to keep on coming. Having tapped in from a silky display earlier in the evening, this time he tried his luck from long-range and you know what they say- when you're in rich form, they sometimes just land in the back of the net. Sure, Toma did unleash a good drive at the Székely keeper, but when Barna Nagy looked to have saved the shot there was then a sad moment for the Csikszereda Miercur man as the ball spilt through him and rolled along the 3G pitch into his goal. Kárpátalya 2-0 Székely. We could see under the stone terraced pitch-long stand opposite the main stand that the Székely lot had all crammed in together now and they were going to give their lads some final encouragement, an act that I have a lot of respect for and therefore decided to join in with.

Get your smoke bombs out for the lads
Into the final 15 minutes now and with Toma still terrorising and seeking out a hat-trick, the midfield maestro was hacked down in the box which led to a decisive penalty being awarded. Alex Svedjuk was cool and composed to guide the ball home, leaving his side with a comfortable three-goal cushion. Kárpátalya 3-0 Székely. Ever since I'd seen them beat Abkhazia on the first Saturday of the tournament I'd seen a lot to admire in the Kárpátalya side and despite one English drunkard stood shouting amongst the Székely mob "we're gonna win 4-3" I had faith that the side playing in a very Hungarian kit would see it out now. That wouldn't stop their opponents giving it a good go though and just two minutes after the penalty the crowd went wild as their side finally grabbed a lifeline. Kárpátalya 3-1 Székely. And then what seemed to be seconds later there really was hope with still ten minutes on the clock as they worked in another desperate ball which fell to a sky blue attacker to unleash a wonder striker from well outside the box and all of a sudden the comeback was on! Kárpátalya 3-2 Székely.

There would be one more late goal yet, but for who?
The final moments of the game brought utter desperation in attack from Székely Land who all believed at this point that they'd be clenching a shootout from the claws of defeat, but football is a cruel sport and when you pile on the attack against an on-form György Toma, you have to be prepared to bust a gut when he counters. The number 22 had made his opponents quiver all game and when he got the ball at the halfway line he found himself running in to supply a supporting cast member for the killing fourth Kárpátalya goal. Kárpátalya 4-2 Székely. Soon after this the final whistle blew and with a huge and passionate amount of respect all of the players from Székely Land joined the fans in singing their national anthem, a great moment to be a part of which was amplified further when the Kárpátalya squad came over to join in- a moment that made the spine tingle and one that summarises the point of what CONIFA aims to do. The response from all of the fans was magnificent and I'm sure that both of these nations will be supporting their respective opposition from this night as they go fourth into the 3rd/4th Playoff and the Final.
What a final image to take away from Colston Avenue

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