Monday, May 25, 2015

Euro Tournament Report


Our guides at the Awards Ceremony
With a week to go to the Old Boys’ European Railways Tournament, things looked bleak, very bleak… No forwards. No keeper. How were Loko going to fly the Union Jack capably and not end up with egg on their faces?

As is often the case with this 22 year old tournament, just under seven days before we were all to kick a ball, Tournament legend Roger pulled several rabbits out of his hat in the shape of a brand new keeper (Neville) and two forwards, Scott - who showed what he was capable of at last year’s tournament in Spain - and newcomer Ricky, a 30-goal a season number 9.
One man who can also count himself very lucky is Hakim (Ismail’s son), the lucky blighter who was happy to be bumped off his morning flight from Stansted to Budapest in exchange for £200 and a seat on the next flight, which he spent chatting up a young Hungarian girl about politics and god knows what else for two solid hours.

Not a bad start to the trip – unlike Matt and Dave who turned up at the pretty Queen Elizabeth hotel in Godollo only to be told there was no room for the England team and that we all had to move to more spartan surroundings in the shape of the local campus. The Fanthom brothers were not amused - nor were most of the other players when they discovered their fate…

On top of that, the weather in Hungary right from the moment we arrived would make Manchester look like the Sahara desert by comparison. You don’t expect central Europe in June to be damp and miserable but this is exactly what awaited us as it never stopped bucketing down from Thursday until Saturday.

Thankfully, playing for Loko tends to equip you with eternal (and sometimes unfounded) optimism. And so, despite the inclement weather,bromance blossomed between Dave and Beni and Matt and Beni (“you are the most handsome man in Hungary Beni”) and all in all, everybody got into the spirit of the tournament aided by the squad’s new anthem 

On the Friday, we all crammed into a little “train” that took us to the sumptuous Godollo Palace, a favourite dwelling place of  Queen Elizabeth of Hungary.
The tournament draw took place in the main palace dining room and Loko (England) got drawn in the group of death vs Hungary, Italy and Belgium…

Friday 22 May,
Group A, First round
England- Italy 0 – 0


Italy vs England games in this tournament are always tight, low scoring affairs. This game was no exception. In the first half the Italians were slightly on top but Nev made a couple of excellent saves whilst Ismail marshalled the defence well.

On 16 minutes their diminutive centre forward was clear on goal but Ivan got in the way and Nev pulled yet another great save.

In the second half, Rodney played the ball to Andy down the wing who in turn strung a fantastic ball into Scott with a defender behind him. Ricky was free in the box but Scott failed to find him. Great chance in view of a generally sterile encounter with two cagey teams that know each other too well. All in all a fair result and a good point!

Line-up: Neville – Rodney, Ismail, Ivan, Marcel – Beni (then Hakim 21’), Matt, Dave (then Andy 30’), Roger – Scott, Ricky  
Man of the Match: Neville, special mention: Ismail

Friday 22 May, Hungary – England 4-1
Group A, First round


Matt is urging the team to wake up from their slumber
Because of the non-stop rain, our second game was to be played on a bumpy mixture of astroturf and dirt instead of the grass surface that beckoned on the other side of the ground.
But we were all up for it and things got off to a marvellous start as Scott slammed the ball on the Hungarian crossbar with a venomous shot from 40 yards out.

With only 3 minutes on the clock, Beni was in the way of a pass from the back but let it run for SCOTT who hit a twenty five-yarder into the roof of the Hungarian net, opening the score to wide English jubilation.

But his was not going to last.  As too many players went up for a corner, the Hungarians unleashed a devastating counterattack to score at the other end  and level the score only 2 minutes later. At that stage, Ivan, had to leave the pitch as a result of a hamstring injury he’d picked up in the last minute of the game vs Italy.

As Loko didn’t have a spare centre back left, Matt had to slot into central defence and this considerably messed up England’s plans. Soon after that, their quick number 11 shook off his marker on the edge of the box and curled a beautiful shot into Nev’s far corner for their second of the game.

In the second half, Marcel fouled their number eight 30 yards out and the Hungarians scored from the resulting freekick as it was played down the right wing and the cross was dispatched into Neville’s bottom right corner. Hungary scored a fourth with only 6 minutes to go with yet another cross that was met by one of their lethal twins up front who buried it at the far corner again.

England were now down and almost out unless Hungary were to beat Italy by at least two goals in their next game the following day.
Line-up: Neville – Rodney, Ismail, Ivan (then Andy, 4’), Marcel – Beni, Matt, Dave (then Hakim, 25’), Roger – Scott, Ricky  

Man of the match: Ismail

Saturday 23 May, England – Belgium 5 -1
Group A, First round


Back row: Marcel, Steve, Roger, Rodney, Scott, Beni, Neville (yellow jersey), Andy, Ivan
Front row: Ismail, Dave, Hakim
As Hungary failed to beat Italy in the first game of day 2 despite being 2-0 up in the first half, England were now only playing for pride – and so they did. Looking both liberated and frustrated, Loko looked pumped up for this encounter against a Belgian team that has talent and technique in spades. 

England got off to an excellent start as ROGER ran down the left wing and rolled back the years by notching the game’s opening goal by beating the Belgian goalkeeper at close range.

Belgium didn’t give up though and equalised against the run of play as two of their players beat our bewildered defenders’ offside trap. Their number seven crossed in the general direction of our goal for their number 11 to jump over onrushing Nev and score at the far post. All in all this was a sucker punch given our domination. England got a bit jittery shortly after that goal as the Belgians hit the woodwork with a fierce shot from the right.

Thankfully, this shaky period seemed to trigger a massive reaction in our ranks. Beni was on fire, Matt and Dave were playing some good balls down the middle, Andy was as assured as ever whilst upfront Ricky, Scott and Roger were spreading panic in their defence.

This also coincided with RICKY, who had had a quiet tournament so far, coming to life. Our target man dribbled past three Belgian players and scored low to the keeper’s left. RICKY repeated his feat 5 minutes later when he scored Loko’s third from a suspected offside position.

RICKY added a third before SCOTT scored with a sweet strike at the far post. As the game was coming to an end, ex Loko manager (circa 2000-02) Paul made a cameo appearance just to keep up with Steve (yet another Loko veteran) who’d been on the pitch for the past 15 minutes.

Neville – Rodney, Ismail, Matt, Marcel – Beni (then Steve, 25’), Hakim (then Dave 30’ then Paul 37’), Roger – Scott, Ricky  

Weird, shapeless yellow object in sight
Man of the match: Ricky, Special mention: Scott

Saturday 23 May, 5th/6th play-off
England – Switzerland 3 -2


Beni on the lookout for his next kill 
Again, with nothing to play for but pride, England were keen to beat Switzerland to prove that they were better than their final position would suggest.

The Swiss, who have never beaten us in the tournament, seemed to have identified SCOTT as the main danger and were all over him right from the start but our tall forward took his chance from inside the box on 4 minutes as he opened the score by firing a hard shot past their keeper.

Scott got fouled again on 9 minutes and took the law into his own hands as he dinked the freekick over the wall for Beni who was lurking in their box but his shot went over the bar.
Five minutes later, a Matt freekick over their defence found SCOTT who was now positioned one on one against their goalie whom he crucified mercilessly from five yards out.

A further Scott freekick from 30 yards out five minutes later flew over the crossbar.

Shortly afterwards Rodney put the ball in the back of the Swiss net with a good strike but, inexplicably, the goal was disallowed for offside.

As the second half got underway, England got caught napping as a through ball carved our defence open and their number seven’s low shot beat Neville at the far post.

With the game now in the balance, Ricky looked a bit agitated and tried to take on two players on his own down the left wing but our number 9 lost the ball and the counterattack resulted in faultless Neville being completely exposed and beaten at the far post as he tried to avert their number 9’s attempt on goal.

As the clock was ticking, Beni, who was putting in one of his high energy performances, shot just over the bar. The team were now on song (at last) and exchanges between Roger and Dave all supported by our now impeccable defence with Marcel and Andy in great form were pushing for a win.

This became reality as a Marcel saw our left back pass down the wing to Scott who pinged the ball over to RICKY who arrowed a shot past the keeper to end the tournament on a high despite the overall result.

Neville – Rodney, Ismail, Matt, Marcel – Beni, Andy, Hakim (then Dave 30’), Roger – Scott, Ricky  

Man of the Match: Scott

In the final, Hungary beat tournament favourites Spain on penalties as the Hungarian keeper put the Spanish keeper to the sword with the last kick of the game.

The Awards ceremony started with a highly popular folkloric group performance followed by singsongs in no less than seven languages by the multilingual co-host.

England picked up their 5th placed trophy to the sound of , yes, you’ve guessed it, the Sigma anthem which the squad sang in unison and most probably out of key…

Before the England team’s obligatory visit to a trendy night club in central Budapest, Player of the Tournament went to the Hungarian number 9, the immaculate Spanish number 8 (an ex 3rd division player) bagged top goalscorer before the Spanish keeper collected goalie of the tournament whilst Scott scooped England’s very own Player of the Tournament award.

Appearances can be deceptive you know, my favourite drink is apple juice
All in all, this was a fun, action-packed albeit rain soaked tournament with three good performances and a terrible hiccup against the eventual winners.

Roll on France 2016 in Southwestern France from 12 to 15 May!

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