Sunday, June 24, 2012

A fairy tale ending.

Our football team finished second in the league last week and that earned us the right to play in the knockout rounds of the cup.

Tonight was the first knockout stage and victory would see us enter the last 16 on Tuesday night.

With inconsistent appearances from a number of players during the season, it was good to see we had a full contingent turn up tonight and give us the option of substitutes and fresh legs throughout the evening.

Excited to start, we moved the ball around well. Some good movement on and off the ball and a number of chances came our way, but none found the back of the net ... and it was indeed our opponents who scored first. We were caught on the break and a clean finish saw us go one behind.

We kept out heads up however, and it wasn't long before we equalized and then found the net for a second time to put ourselves in front.

With more than half the match played, we just had to focus and hold on, but the inevitable happened and we conceded a second.

We continued to play well, but still looked for the vital winner as the clock ticked down. The referee signaled 3 minutes and as we had our eye on the final whistle, some shoddy marking by our team saw us fall behind for the second time in the game.

We knew there was very limited time to do anything to save our fate. We pushed forward and had a couple of openings, but our urgency got the better of us and the final pass just wasn't finding its man. We had come too far to see our dream slip away from us like this. But we had one last chance. A break down the right wing and a crowded defense left us with no choice but to swing in a cross and hope for the best. It was delivered well, good pace and outswinging to the far post, and we all saw a diving red shirt connect with the ball perfectly to see it headed into the back of the net.

We had saved ourselves and pulled level in, literally, the dying seconds. As soon as we restarted, the final whistle blew, and we had saved ourselves from an unjust exit from the tournament ... at least for the time being.

With a final score of 3-3, our destiny would be settled by a penalty shoot out. It's the first time I have ever experienced this as a player and it's every bit as nerve racking as is played out on TV.

One can sit back an criticise professional players when they miss a penalty, but when you find yourself in that position, the goal never looks smaller and the opposing goalkeeper never looks bigger!

We had 3 brave souls volunteer to take the kicks and we all had faith in our goalkeeper.

Our team stepped up first and it was a solid shot into the bottom corner. With a clean finish like that, it's clear to see the benefit of being first in a penalty shoot out. Our opponents equalized and both teams scored their second penalties as well. As our third man stepped up and neatly finished his shot, making it 3 out of 3 for us, we started to debate (and worry) about who will be the additional takers should we go to sudden death.

The debate, however, was moot. A penalty aimed straight down the middle was brilliantly deflected by our 'keeper who had the presence of mind not to dive speculatively to either side, and victory was ours.

And how sweet it was. To win in a fashion that couldn't be scripted better. A last second equaliser and a penalty shoot out victory, we look forward to enjoying the place we have earned in the last 16 "tournament" on Tuesday evening.

Every player has done well and contributed to this great team achievement. Thanks to all of you for the great season we have had .... till now!

Our sponsor for the season, POLICE, deserve an honourable mention,
especially for the prizes we were given this evening for our valour and achievement.

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