The 11th AEM took place from 15-17th July in Galway, Ireland hosted by Galway City Council. A team of employees from the Galway City Council made their debut in the competition in 2013 in Aalborg, Denmark, where James, Marian and Viet got to know them while representing the Bunte Liga in the BuLi Bären selection. FCKP and the lads from Galway City Council got to know each other in an exciting encounter in the group stages of the 2015 AEM in Berlin, and we were invited to go and take part in Galway. Of course, we didn’t hesitate to confirm! After a quarter-final exit last year, we were determined to make a good account of ourselves and played some preparation games throughout the months leading up to the tournament and travelled with 16 players. Hector was restricted to coaching duties due to an unfortunate injury weeks before the tournament, but along with Zahra, Mailis, Mira and Rima, we had excellent support! There was even mention of us in the local Berlin newspaper (http://m.morgenpost.de/sport/berlin-sport/article207833867/Deutsche-Fussballer-koennen-doch-noch-Europameister-werden.html).
The opening ceremony took place against the backdrop of some typical Irish summer weather, with light rain, a harsh wind and a mild 12-14 degrees. The weather was the only thing that wasn’t well organised, as Galway welcomed the 12 teams in total, with teams representing Ireland, Poland, Latvia, Switzerland and Germany. Everything was well set up at the excellent facilities of A.F.C Mervue United, with some local children carrying the AEM flag onto the pitch and even the vice-mayor declaring the tournament open.
The first set of group games got under way as FCKP was drawn in group A facing the hosts Galway City FC, 5eme Etage (Bern, Switzerland) and FC Latvia Galway and playing on pitch 1. Unfortunately pitch 1 did not turn out to be the extremely well kept main pitch which was reserved for semi-finals and final. After a lengthy opening ceremony and an intense warm-up in the rain and wind, we were in the right mood and ready for our first match.
2:1 against FC Latvia Galway:
It started like typical opening match. Both side were cautious, slowly getting used to the surroundings. Of course the grass on pitch 1 was a perfect green, but in contrast to the 8mm length we saw in most of the irish parks, it was closer to 8cm. The rain, the harsh wind and hardly visible lines caused quite difficult playing conditions. FCKP’s defence was very solid however and seemed to adjust the easiest. Diego and James in the center, who both played every minute of the tournament, hardly left any work for our goalkeeper Marian and patiently built our play during the opening minutes.
We were dominating possession and in the last 10 minutes before half-time we brought in some fresh players from the side. After a well-timed overlapping run from left defender Brian and a silly foul in the box from their right defender, we won a well-deserved penalty. Steffen stood up but hit the ball over the bar on an overused penalty spot. A few minutes later, Steffen passed a ball low to Daniel on the left wing. After cutting inside about 20 metres from the goal onto his favoured right foot, he hit the ball perfectly into the top-right corner of the goal. Whether the shot was helped by the wind or not is hard to say, but FCKP went 1:0 up and continued to push for the second goal. Amir had a header that was cleared off the line, but with the last action of the first half he headed home a corner from Steffen for a well-deserved 2:0 half-time lead.
In the second half we were trying to save some energy for the next day and mostly worked defensively. Despite the Latvian team having some decent individual players, we were able to control their attacks very well. We were unlucky to concede the 2:1 after a throw-in and a series of coincidences but continued our good work. The whole team was really dedicated with Amir (tactical foul) and Diego (gaining time) even taking personal responsibility. In the absence of our “tunnel expert” Hector, Kyle filled the void by performing an audacious nutmeg on a Latvian central midfielder. Another highlight of the game was Alex’s excellent vocal performance after being fouled, with his screams being heard from every corner of the pitch complex. After playing a great opening match with good performances from every individual player, we went to bed (via the pubs of Galway) in a confident mood.
0:0 against 5ème Etage:
Saturday surprised us with no rain, less wind, and even some sunshine. Despite a 0:0 scoreline, our second match was a really interesting one with lots of chances and great saves from decent goalkeepers on both sides. The opponent from Switzerland was in a great mood and typified the tournament, not only due to the great football they played, but also their friendly spirit. Our defence was really solid again, as Adonis, James, Diego, Brian and Kyle didn’t allow their attacks to come through very often. When they did, Marian was there to save them. We had to do a lot of defensive work in this game against a strong team and were mainly focussing on counters in the first half. We had a great chance with Bart through on goal alone against their keeper, but a player was able to clear the first shot off the line and we were lacking some collective movement to give him options for the rebound.
In the second half we gained control of the game and also had some good chances. Alex was through on goal, got clearly fouled by a defender but was denied the penalty, while Daniel missed a cross from Steffen from the left side by a few centimeters. They had a chance when their goalkeeper caught a ball and initiated a counter-attack. Hurrying back, Daniel was able to make a last ditch tackle on their right winger that forced the ball wide. We had another scare as Adonis cleared a shot off the line with his bottom, but otherwise defended well and gave a really solid defensive performance. Diego even managed to avoid a yellow card, making it the only game in the tournament that he didn’t get one!
1:2 against Galway City FC
Before the final group match we had already secured second place and qualification for the quarter-finals. We decided to make some changes in the starting line-up to give some players a break and allow Marian to play as a striker. The long break between the first and second match of this day was used to finally buy some fancy purple boots for Edoardo, who was struggling for traction during the first matches as his shoes were designed for playing on astroturf.
The hosts were able to field a much stronger team this year compared to last year’s meeting in Berlin where FCKP won 5:2. After intense scouting of Galway’s previous matches, head coach Hector made some tactical adjustments to our shape along with some changes in personnel.
The match started very balanced, we were controlling the ball and didn’t allow the strong Galway offence to create any serious chances. The few balls coming through were easy catches for Bart who played a solid part in goal during this match.
We went to halftime with a 0:0, confident that we would get the chance to score the winner in the second thirty minutes and finish first in the group. At the beginning of the second half, Galway played some strong pressing and we were not able to properly build our play, continuously losing possession in midfield. Even though we controlled their strong left winger most of the match, it was one of his crosses and a clean finish to the bottom left corner of our goal that got the hosts the 1:0 lead halfway in the second half.
We were playing very offensively afterwards and after a nice combination over on the left side, Steffen’s cross found Marian on the edge of the box, who finished with an impressive half-volley scissor kick. This left the game in the balance, but Galway were able to take the lead again after a speculative chipped pass from Adonis into the crowded midfield was picked up by an opponent. On way towards our goal, Diego fouled the attacker and a free-kick was awarded. The goalkeeper excellently scored it, and it turned out to be the winning goal. It was a good game and Galway finished deserved winners of the group after winning all of their games. Finishing second in the group took us to the quarter final against the second team from Group B, which turned out to be the BuLi Bären (Bunte Liga Berlin selection).
Quarter Final: 0:1 against BuLi Bären (Berlin, Germany)
For this match we had to move to pitch 2 where the grass was nicer, the lines better visible, but which was slightly downhill in one direction. BuLi Bären started offensively (downhill) and were clearly coping better with the conditions. Still, as in all previous matches, our defence was very solid and after 10 minutes we gained control of the match and were able to create good chances via both wings. Unfortunately the Buli Bären took the lead midway through the first half after Kyle was caught in possession in the crowded midfield. Their attacking midfielder slotted in their striker who finished with aplomb. We had several big chances with long range shots from Amir (crossbar), Daniel and Kyle but were unlucky not to score.
In the second half, with both teams getting more tired, the game became more stretched. The game plan of the BuLi Bären was mostly focussed on getting their strong striker into a good position with the ball. Our central defenders and defensive midfielders did a great job taking him out of play and the one occasion where he received the ball in the box and shot was brilliantly saved by Marian. Having travelled to Galway with only 12 players and having already lost one due to an injury during the group stage, the BuLi Bären were clearly getting tired and appeared happy to defend their 1-0 lead.
FCKP was very offensive afterwards, allowing their striker room for one man counter-attacks. Diego saved his team multiple times during this phase with some last-ditch tackles. For the final ten minutes, Stefan (unable to play at this point due to an injury he had been struggling with for the whole tournament) sent Diego forward to play as a second striker. We were trying to create chances with high balls to the center but their defence was winning most of the headers. In the last few minutes, one of these high balls got through to the back post where Diego was able to control it before it went out of play. After a push from behind from a defender, he went down easily and we were granted a lucky penalty. Marian wanted to run from his goal to take it, but at the time we were unaware that there were so few volunteers to take such a high pressure spot-kick and he was told not to take the risk. Daniel finally stepped up but couldn’t hold his nerve and hit the ball over the bar in a cloud of white paint dust. Even in the last minutes and in added time we kept creating chances, and after a rebounded header from a corner fell to Ross, he took the risk and hit the ball with his first touch. Unfortunately, he was off-balance and his shot was so wide that it almost went for a throw-in. To our disappointment, the game finished 0:1.
Despite being knocked out of the tournament, we celebrated our performance with a barbeque at the hostel that evening. Even though many were suffering from sore legs and sunburn, we had a great evening. The next day we decided to go and watch the final between CCL-Allstars (Cologne, Germany, with some local lads making up the numbers), and Rotor Zürich (Switzerland). It was a great spectacle on the main pitch with all but one of the 10 other teams from the tournament coming to watch. CCL-Allstars snatched the win with a good finish from one of the local lads, who was there to help them field a full team. We stayed for the award ceremony and everyone agreed that it was an excellently organised and fun tournament.
Goals: Daniel, Amir, Marian
Assists: Steffen (x3)
Players: Marian, James (c), Diego, Brian, Adonis, Kyle, Amir, Stefan, Ross, Edoardo, Clement, Daniel, Alex, Steffen, Bart
Fans: Zahra, Mailis, Mira, Rima
Written by Daniel Klink and James Topping