A group of us travelled to Riga on Friday 30th October to play the in the Baltic Four Cup, co-organised by Marian. Three other teams joined, including two teams from Latvia (Riga United and FK Lielupe from Jurmala) and Rumori Calcio from Estonia.
Despite knowing that we faced a big challenge the following day against good teams and with just enough people to field a full team (without and substitutes), we decided to ignore our plans to have an early night on Friday and went partying in Riga after a nice dinner together and some card games at the apartment.
Since the tournament didn’t start until 16:00 on Saturday, we found time do some sightseeing in the old town of Riga and enjoyed the sunny autumnal weather while playing in the fallen leaves and trying some of the local food.
The tournament itself took place on a great artificial grass pitch near the city centre. We started with a game against Riga United, an amateur football club playing in the Latvian second and third division. The team we faced consisted mainly of second team players with the odd first team player, including their amazingly talented playmaking captain. The first half was tight affair and our defence was able to cope well under the pressure or their attacks, but we struggled to build many real chances of our own despite getting the ball into some good positions. The second half was more open as they decided to press a lot higher up the pitch and put us under a lot of pressure. They had some great movement in the midfield and a physically strong striker. We had two good chances, with Abdel failing to direct a half volley inside of the post and with Alex cutting in from the left with a beautiful 270 turn, but ran out of space and couldn’t find a decisive pass or finish. We make a lot of mistakes however in all areas of the pitch struggled to bring the ball in front of their goal often enough and conceded 4 goals without reply. If it wasn’t for a solid performance in goal by Marian, it could have easily been more. Full-time result: 0:4.
We went into the second game against Rumori Calcio with plenty of confidence despite the loss, and it turned out to be an eventful game with great chances for both teams. They took the lead after a through ball and run was converted with a good finish when the striker smashed his shot past the near post. We continued with the same determination and positivity and after some good build-up play, Clement played a long pass to Steffen from a deep position on the right. Steffen just managed to take the ball in his stride and hook it across goal into bottom right corner with a half volley on his left foot. With the scores at 1:1, the game was wide open and we were pushing for a second goal. Both teams managed to get the ball into some good positions, but it unfortunately it wasn’t us who got the third goal. After winning the ball in the box, Alex sprinted forward, but was brought down with a late tackle from behind. The referee signalled for the teams to play on, and the ball fell to one of their players, who was able to score unchallenged from inside the penalty. Despite our appeals, the goal was awarded and we restarted the game again. Pushing for an equaliser and playing with a high defensive line, they were able to exploit the space with long passes in behind our defence. We still had good chances, including a shot off the post from Clement, but they managed to score a third goal after a long pass was excellently controlled by the strikers arm and shot into the bottom corner past the helpless goalkeeper. Again, the goal stood, and we were quite right to feel unfortunate with a 3:1. Despite the disappointment, it was a great game against an international team with a strong character, where lots of Italian and Arabic was spoken.
We took to the pitch for our final match after an inspiring speech from our Pablo (t-shirt) and were fired up to give everything we had left to secure a good result despite being tired and cold. We tweaked the positions a little, putting Abdel in the striker position and moving Brian back into the centre of the defence along-side James. With Amir and Alex providing the energy from the engine room, Clement and Toni tormenting from the wings and Steffen and Abdel causing problems at the front, we had a great performance. We put them under great pressure from the beginning, with good pressing from the whole team led by the tireless Abdel. Despite Amir suffering from a tight hamstring and being limited with his movement, it didn’t hinder his playmaking abilities as he set up Toni for our first two goals. The first goal resulted from Amir spotting a great run from Toni and playing a defence-splitting pass for Toni, who finished with aplomb, placing the ball past the keeper and into the top corner. The second goal was another great ball from Amir over the defence from the halfway line and a composed first-touch lob over the helpless keeper from the edge of the box, which must go down as one of the contenders for goal of the season. We went into the second half full of confidence and, despite a slight scare when Clement was forced to head a shot off our goal line, the goals continued to flow. The third goal was the result of some quick thinking from Toni and Steffen, as a quick throw-in caught their defence off guard. Steffen was able to run down the wing and cross to Abdel, who was able to place a controlled half-volley past the keeper. For our fourth, Alex was the quickest to react to a loose ball in our half and initiated a counter attack, running deep into the other team’s half. He looked up to find Abdel running into space in the penalty area. In fact, he was in so much space when he got the ball, that he almost didn’t know what to do, but managed to find the back of the goal with his shot. The opponent pulled back one goal after some confusion between Brian and Jose led to a deflected clearance falling for their striker to slot away from close range. Some great pressure from our attack lead to Abdel winning the ball, and after some good combination play with Clement, Amir had a shot fly wide of the post. It was Steffen who scored our fifth after a good throw into the penalty area by Adonis, some good pressure from Abdel, and a placed finish into the bottom corner. Both teams had another chance, including some more good playmaking from Amir, when a great corner from Steffen couldn’t be dealt with and was finally hit goalwards by Clement, with the ball deflecting in off the goalkeeper. The opponent pulled another goal back after some good pressure and scored from a great cross and an assured finish. We weren’t finished however, and after some more good build-up play from Toni and Jose, Steffen was able to play a through-ball to Abdel, who wasn’t able to finish past the keeper despite being in so much space after his good run. The opponent had some more good pressure which led to two more chances, the second a powerful goal-bound shot blocked by James.
In the end, our solid defence, the opponent failing to capitalise on most of their chances and our efficient attack play proved decisive, and our midfield did a great job of protecting our back four and creating chances for our attack. Alex and Amir made a great partnership in the middle, with the latter’s performance reminiscent of Andrea Pirlo. The game finished with an excellent 6:2 victory and we received a big round of applause from the other teams and our three amazing fans: Mira, Sara and Rima.
As the tournament finished, we were happy to come third overall, with only an inferior goal difference separating us from finishing second place thanks to Riga United’s domination of the tournament. We spent the evening dissecting our performance, drinking plenty of shots of Balsam (the local liquor) and for those of us who still had energy left, enjoying a night out on the town. Sunday morning, with some of us having very little sleep, saw around half of the group leave back to Berlin and the rest escape this city and go hiking in Sigulda, followed by an evening of Karaoke. Marian, Adonis staying until Tuesday, continuing the party for the rest of the team, and finishing what was a memorable weekend.
Marian (c), Adonis, James, Brian, Jose, Amir, Alex, Clement, Toni, Steffen, Abdel
Steffen (x2), Toni (x2), Abdel (x2), Clement
Sara, Mira, Rima
Report by James Topping