Friday, 8 June 2018

07/06/18 Review: Tamil Eelam vs Tuvalu and Barawa vs Panjab

Tamil Eelam 4-3 Tuvalu (CONIFA World Cup, 13th-16th Place Semi-Finals)
Gander Green Lane [Match 1 of 2]

It has been a while since I've attempted two games at the same ground on the same day, but to go one step further I was taking on the legendary double double during Thursday's latter stage matches, which would include a couple of games in my first ever visit to Gander Green Lane, followed by both Semi-Finals over at Carshalton Athletic's Colston Avenue. To start things off, I was in Sutton for the 12 noon kick-off between two sides I'd seen before already in the CONIFA World Cup, Tamil Eelam and Tuvalu. Before today's encounter, the combined number of tournament goals scored by these teams was one and they'd conceded an almighty 38 goals in their four games each so far. If those stats didn't fill you with confidence of a high-quality match, I don't know what could have.

Perhaps a look at the backroom staff might put your mind at ease
Gander Green Lane is one that I'd had my eye on visiting for a while and although I missed out on this season's away day with my beloved Macc Town to come down and see Sutton play, I would now at least get my chance to see what all the fuss was about as many groundhoppers have raved about what a great old school venue the U's have on their hands in South London. Of course many Leeds United fans will remember an all-time low for their club visiting and losing at Gander Green Lane in one of the many famous FA Cup days Sutton had the chance to host two seasons ago, culminating in a last 16 glamour tie against eventual winners Arsenal. Today's tie would be far from glamorous, with two nations battling for at best the 13th place honour, but in Tamil Eelam and Tuvalu the National League Premier ground would at least have the thrill of hosting a decent game for those fans already missing their club being in action every week.

Blood, don't make me get old school
As mentioned already, this match would not be the first in which I had the privileged of seeing either of these teams, as I was at the Opening Ceremony game across at Bromley whey back last Thursday for Barawa's 4-0 victory over the Sri Lankan Tamil side and having also seen them in my last game before this one, a crushing 0-6 defeat to Abkhazia at Parkside, I was hoping to finally see them at least score a goal- I'd predicted a 3-2 Tamil win beforehand, surely they had to grab some goals at some point, right? Meanwhile I had only seen Tuvalu once and in a mismatched Group C game it would be in a very one-sided 8-0 victory for Padania, a side I'd be seeing in the championship Semis later that day, at my first trip to Haringey Borough's Coles Park stadium. The scene was set for a chance of redemption and as the two sides entered the fray in front of roughly 80 in attendance, the 12 o'clock kick-off was soon underway and with a very pacy start.

Who fancies an early goal?
Despite Tuvalu not looking anything like a dominant force when I saw them against the Italian stallions on Saturday, they were certainly in fine early form in this match and with the nation's all-time top scorer Alopua Petoa finding himself with the ball and totally unmarked in the 2nd minute, he picked his spot and powered the ball home to give the Oceania nationals a reason to smile and a lead to set them off on a strong opening foot. Tamil 0-1 Tuvalu. If you've read any of my entries on Tamil you should know that I've respected their early attacking intent, despite bemoaning their ability to finish their build-up play with goals, and today's match would also see them with a good chance to go forward and play fluid football. With still only 7 minutes or so on the clock, the ball would make its way to Kasthuran Chelliah and the lad, who plays his football in Holland's ninth tier, slotted an equaliser past Katepu Iosua to level things up with their much needed first goal of the games. Tamil 1-1 Tuvalu. Tuvalu looked momentarily shaken by the goal conceded and they were almost punished again as they conceded yet another penalty in the tournament and it gave Gonas Panneerselvam, who had hit the bar moments earlier with an appetising free-kick, the chance to do one better and actually hit the back of the net. The TuS Bielfingen midfielder stepped up, ran towards the ball and hit his stirke to Iosua's right, only to then watch as the Tofaga keeper dived and saved the kick, to keep the score at 1-1.

These lads must have been fearing the worst by this point
As we rode on into the half-hour mark of the game it continued to be open and quite a physical contest too. Meauke "The Menace" Tuilagi was built like a rugby player and he also played like one, the number four for Tuvalu shocked the crowd when he manhandled a Tamil attacker off the ball and threw him to the ground inside the box- the flag had already been raised for offside but I'm not convinced he knew about that. Janothan Perananthan would go on to blast over before the break and Gvinthan "God Bless the Commentators" Navaneethakrishnan squandered a one-on-one chance for Tamil, meaning that at half-time the score would be 1-1 after a decent game so far. With the Ref's whistle, I decided to go and grab a refreshment and have a nosy around Sutton's clubhouse. The odd thing about Gander Green Lane's bar is that you have to enter via the tunnel, as is also true for the toilets, a slightly inconvenient feature I imagine at big crowd affairs as you wait for the first two minutes for the players to leave the pitch and then again for the last two as they re-enter. I had hilarious images of a crafty Sutton supporter getting caught-up in the Arsenal line-up entering the field for the second-half when they visited and ending up coming out looking like some sort of weird middle-aged mascot. Perhaps that's how Wayne Shaw ended up becoming a player?
Mind you, not a bad little clubhouse
Back outside it was time for the second-half and as with the first, Tuvalu looked to start on the front foot. After taking a long-range shot, which was well saved by FC Supernova's Umaesh Sundaralingam, Tuvalu would then find themselves winning a 53rd minute penalty after Petoa was brought down as he lined-up a shot in the box. Matti Hoffren Uaelesi was the man to take it and in a similar vein to Tamil's first-half spotkick, a decent save was made again. As I walked around the ground to check out the view from the stand which was being painted during the game- most non-league thing I've ever witnessed- I would find myself in the perfect position as Sosene Vailine ran into the box to pick out a crisp finish which allowed Tuvalu to retake the lead. Tamil 1-2 Tuvalu. By this point we were all set for the remaining half an hour to provide a constant stream of entertainment and it all started with a good old fashioned mass stand-off between several players reacting to a Tamil Eelam foul. The near brawl was eventually quenched with the help of the Lino running to assist breaking up the players, but obviously something was said to upset the main official as he handed out a green card to Tuvalu's captain, Taufaiva Ionatana. The spirit of Tuvalu would not be crushed though yet and as we came into the final 15 minutes a decisive break would lead to Petoa being handed a goal on a plate to which he gratefully tapped in. Tamil 1-3 Tuvalu.
Surely game over at this point, right?
In their previous outing I'd noticed that Tamil had mentally and physically stopped working for the game in the latter stages, conceding four in the last 20 minutes against Abkhazia, but the efforts this time around were very admirable and with just 6 minutes left of regular time Prashanth Ragavan would give his nation a lifeline as super-sub Nitharshan Ratnam sprang the Tuvalu offside trap to run in and pick out the striker for the fifth goal of the afternoon. Tamil 2-3 Tuvalu. As you'd expect, it was all Tamil now and as we plunged into stoppage time Ragavan squandered his next chance after beating the keeper to a stretched effort before watching it agonisingly clip the top side of the bar on its way out, but amazingly this would not be the final chance for Eelam. Ratnam had been magnificent after coming on and when he found himself in space again on the right in stoppage time, he made no mistake in grabbing an equaliser in the most unlikely of fashion to seemingly take the game to penalties. Tamil 3-3 Tuvalu. We must now have been in the 94th minute of the game and as the ball was pumped up field time seemed to slow right down as Ragavan ran in, watching the ball drop, before timing an ambitious header to perfection to plonk over a stranded Iosua and bounce on the line and up into the underside of the roof of the net. A fabulous last touch of the game that would see a late, late winner for Tamil Eelam in the most dramatic of moments I've seen in a while. Tamil 4-3 Tuvalu. Despite being a fan of Tuvalu for the day, I couldn't help but give a big cheer with the Sri Lankans as they jumped up to celebrate a win that would see them go into the 13th-14th Place Playoff game against Matabeleland. Tuvalu's tournament will now see them end with a friendly match as they are guaranteed a 15th place finish following Ellan Vannin's decision to go home after the group stages. With now an hour to wait, it was time to eat my lunch and calm down before the second game between Panjab and the hosts Barawa.
Love that winning feeling

Barawa 0-5 Panjab (CONIFA World Cup, 5th-8th Place Semi-Finals)
Gander Green Lane [Match 2 of 2]

The mid-afternoon kick-off would come after an hour's turnaround of teams and whilst the Panjab and Barawa lot were warming-up I had a further glance around Sutton's ground to satisfy my groundhopping needs. The rounded corner terraces with yellow railings are a standout feature for me and as I looked over at the basically empty main stand I couldn't help but imagine what a great ground this would be when filled to the brim. With blue seats at either side of the stand sandwiching in a red selection in the centre, the steep-roofed grandstand at Gander Green is also pretty specialist and having been built in 1951 I wonder how long Sutton will try to sustain it alongside Jenny's kitchen inside the bar. If I were to suggest an obvious change, it would be to add a crowd entrance separate to the player's and officials' tunnel to avoid the nuisance of being locked in or out of the clubhouse, but from what I am led to believe the bar is usually for members only anyway, so maybe it's not as big an issue as I think.

It can get a bit cramped in there
Again these are two teams I've seen before and so far I had been somewhat impressed and I can see how they'd both made it to this stage. Panjab, ranked number one in CONIFA's rankings, are a team I've now had the pleasure of seeing four times including today. In my previous three intakes, I've seen them lose to England C at Solihull, suffer a narrow defeat in a pre-tournament friendly against Ellan Vannin and then most recently I watched them have victory stolen from them at Slough in a 1-1 draw with United Koreans in Japan. Would it be fourth time lucky for me seeing them? I suspected so, although I predicted them to only win via a shoot-out after guessing at a 2-2 draw over 90 minutes. As the game kicked-off I got chatting with a couple of lads who would be attending the final game of the day at Carshalton and in a small world scenario I met a chap called Henry who apparently I'd interacted with once before. We got speaking after spotting each other wearing merchandise from the might Bristol Manor Farm and it turned out that my only visit to The Creek back in 2017 was a game that Henry had also attended- and furthermore he had apparently actually taken a photo for me and a couple of pals holding the Western Premier League trophy. Insane!
As we were chatting about all things Western League and Bristol alike, a further coincidence came as I was telling Henry that a Clevedon Town player in Glenvir Hayer was starting the game today, only to then find out that the people sitting next to us were his parents. Good job I wasn't saying anything bad! Amongst the chatter in the stands there was also a game going on and we had to focus because a goal was just around the corner. Just under 10 minutes had passed when Kamaljit Singh, of German sixth division side SpVgg Vreden, walked his way skilfully past the Barawan back four before opening the scoring. Barawa 0-1 Panjab. Considering how well the tournament had started for the host nation, with highlights of topping Group A and grabbing 4-0 and 2-0 wins over Tamil Eelam and Ellan Vannin in the process, the notable controversy of wrongly being accused of fielding an illegible player and also in suffering a 0-8 Quarter-Final defeat to Northern Cyprus have soured the experience a bit for Barawa, who also had a sad looking sub's bench with just three named. The best chance they had of a goal in the opening proceedings was as Shaun Lucien, who I'd been impressed with in the opening game, hit a free-kick at the Panjab wall in the 21st minute. Just before the half-hour mark in the game things went from bad to worse for Barawa as Simon Noel was given a green card for diving in the box, meaning that the hosts bench was looking more than just a little bare.

Lonely lonely sub's bench
The game was pretty much end-to-end though and with both sides offering different styles of play it was at the very least an entertaining encounter. Omar Sufi went close for Barawa at one end and Taimoor Hussain thrashed the crossbar at the other, but it would remain 1-0 at half-time. By this stage a few groundhoppers were clock watching with the 5pm kick-off at Carshalton looking like a more ambitious effort by the minute- and with the second-half not starting until 4:08pm, that would leave a meagre 7 minutes between games if there was no added time. Some people decided to leave at half-time to make the 2.1 mile walk or 2.5 drive across Sutton, but a few mentalists like myself decided to leave the exact amount of time needed to commute between the games, at the risk of missing the start of Padania versus Northern Cyprus. To add insult to injury I was flawed by own preparation as I missed the second Panjab goal. Whilst having a strategic second-half wee I heard a cheer from my view of the urinals, only to then run out and see the game had kicked-off again, with a well-chipped goal apparently being scored by Maidenhead United's Nathan Minhas. Barawa 0-2 Panjab. In a day that had so far produced nine goals already in Sutton's ground alone, I wasn't too dispirited about missing out and as the game went on there were more goals to be seen for sure. Kamaljit Singh in truth could have already had his hat-trick by now but in the 65th minute he would eventually put another of his many chances away to get his second, Panjab's third, of the day. Barawa 0-3 Panjab. The lion's strength continued to see the Asian side through and with 15 minutes left Singh grabbed his hat-trick with another unmissable gift. Barawa 0-4 Panjab. With the last ten minutes upon us, I had to make the executive decision to edge towards the exit and as I was giving my new pal Henry a lift over to Carshalton, we eventually called it at 4:50pm to dash to my car and attempt to get to Colston Avenue in ten minutes. Would we make it? Find out in my next entry. One thing that was evident was that we did miss a final Panjab goal and it would be Singh who got a fourth for the match to see his side into the 5th-6th Playoff against Cascadia, who will end the tournament as one of only two competing CONIFA nations that I didn't manage to see this tournament, unless I try to catch a bit of their 3pm match at Fisher before I scoot up to Enfield for the Final. In case you were wondering, Western Armenia are the other side I've not seen unfortunately.

Maybe next time, Cascadia

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