Saturday, August 18, 2012

Game 3: Axminster Town 0.0 Exmouth Town (SW Peninsula Div 1E) 18.08.12

I made a special effort to get to this game after reading that Axminster's Sector Lane ground would only be used for their first four games of the season. This was the first of those four games, a season opener against Exmouth Town.

I caught the train down to Axminster and walked through the centre and part way up a hill, finding the ground on the left hand side just before a pub on the right. After paying to get in I wandered round to the elevated bank behind the dugouts to read the programme. The plan for the club is to groundshare for the rest of the season and at the start of next season until the new ground is completed.

It was strange to think that this would be the final opening day kick off as the referee blew the whistle. Sadly the game was not one to match the occasion. Exmouth had a goal disallowed after 10 minutes as the referee wasn't happy with a 50/50 challenge between the keeper and an Exmouth player that set up the 'goal'.

It took Axminster most of the half to get going, a shot on the half hour clawed wide by the Exmouth keeper was their first clear chance on goal. In the last 15 minutes a few runs led to corners but there was no cutting edge.

The second half was a bit more exciting to watch as the game stretched out and players started to tire. In the 57th minute Axminster hit a long chip over the Exmouth keeper but it fell just wide. Both teams had players booked for dissent and the referee's efforts to keep control didn't allow the game to flow. The game finished with a couple of long range shots from both teams that didn't trouble either keeper.

After the game finished I walked swiftly back to the station to catch the hourly service back up the line. I just made it in time and had a pleasant chat to another nonleague enthusiast who had been at the game and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the grounds in the area. He pointed out the work to date on the new pitches which are going to be next to the railway line.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Game 2: Brazil 1.2 Mexico (Olympic Mens Final) 11.08.12

I put in a request for tickets to the Olympic Men's Final on the off chance of being successful in the ballot and was lucky enough to get a pair for Amy and I to attend the match.

It's always been an ambition to see Brazil in a competitive final so I was delighted that they made it through. Mexico beat Senegal in extra time and Japan in the semifinal but were seen as the underdogs, even though they had beaten Brazil in Dallas a couple of months earlier.

We made our way along a colourful Wembley Way with the sounds of a Brazilian samba band in the background. There were a lot of hopeful fans looking for tickets but no sellers in sight. It was fantastic to see the Olympic rings on the stadium above the Bobby Moore statue and we took some photos before heading into the ground early to take in the atmosphere.

When we walked out to our seats I was delighted to see that we were on the front row of the section and next to an aisle - a perfect view of the ground. We were lucky, one couple came in to find that one of their seats didn't exist! The customer service team whisked them off to find some replacement seats for them.

There was a lot of press about Brazil not having won this final before and the pressure was building for the young team with celebrities like Pele flying in for the game.

The Teamline ups were:

Brazil: Gabriel, Rafael,Thiago Silva,Juan Jesus, Sandro, Marcelo, Romulo,Leandro Damiao, Oscar, Neymar, Alex Sandro

Subs: Lucas, Hulk, Uvini, Danilo, Ganso, Pato, Nato

Mexico: Corona, Jiminez, Salcido, Mier, Chavez, Herrera, Fabian, Peralta, Aquino, Reyes, Enriquez

Subs: Cortes, Dos Santos, Jiminez, Vidrio, Ponce, Araujo, Rodriguez

As we approached 3 o clock the stadium filled up and soon the teams were on the pitch for the anthems. A huge scrum of photographers in desert coloured jackets scurried around the pitch for a photo opportunity. The teams then seperated and the Brazil team headed towards our end to prepare for kickoff.

Referee Mark Clattenburg blew the whistle but any latecomers would have missed the first shock of the day. Mexico kicked off and passed he ball back to the keeper to launch down the left side. A Mexican player missed the header as the ball bounced over his head and a Brazilian defender picked up the ball before turning to face the touchline. He could have kicked the ball out of play but cut back to slide a shortpass to a team mate, under pressure from a Mexican player. Mexico were quick to challenge and toepoked the ball through to Peralta. He took the ball on the corner of the area in space, took one touch and then fired a low shot. It had enough pace to beat the keeper's dive and enough accuracy to curve into the back of the net after 27 seconds. A stunner of a goal and the quickest that I could recall seeing. It was later confirmed as the quickest goal in Olympic Final history.

Brazil didn't settle after giving the ball away for the goal as Mexico worked hard as a unit to keep possession and frustrate the favourites. The crowd started the first of several Mexican waves to cheer them on. Brazil headed well over the bar from a freekick in the 12th minute and Oscar hit a shot directly at the keeper from short range 8 minutes later.

Despite the samba instruments dotted around the ground, the team had no rhythm. On the half hour Brazil made an early change, Hulk coming on for Alex Sandro. Mexico still looked comfortable as Brazil gave them
too much space, their attacking play leading to one shot fly over and another shot just wide. They had one moment of concern when Hulk let fly with a powerful dipping shot that the keeper managed to keep out before parrying the ball for a corner. This seemed to give Brazil some confidence with a nice pass into the box allowing Leandro to tee up a shot from Marcello into the side netting. Just before halftime Neymar tried a shot from distance but found the side netting as well.

I was expecting Brazil to continue this good period into the second half and Hulk almost delivered a penalty in the first attack, brought down just outside the area. His freekick beat the wall but not the covering defender. On the next attack Neymar hit a rising shot over the bar. Neymar and Hulk created a couple more chances in this five minute spell, more than Brazil had managed in the first half.

The game was delayed for a few minutes after Neymar was beaten to the ball by the Mexican keeper and suffered a blow to the head. He was soon back on his feet and hit another shot over the bar after the ball bounced around the area.

For all the Brazilian possession and improved play in the second half, the final ball or shot wasn't enough to really trouble the Mexican defence. In the 63rd minute Mexico almost added a second at the far end. A defensive clearance was charged down and the Mexican player took it round the keeper. The keeper did enough to push the ball against the striker and up into the air, allowing him to rush back with a couple of defenders. The Mexican player had to improvise to get a shot away and hit a wonderful overhead kick that crashed off the crossbar.

Brazil continued to attack and left space for Mexico to exploit. In the 68th minute a run down the right and a great pass found an unmarked Perelta in the area. His shot from close in beat the keeper but he was adjudged to be offside so the goal didn't stand. Two minutes later and another great chance to extend the lead came from a corner. The Brazilian keeper flapped at the ball and missed it, leaving Fabian with an empty net and a free header that he put onto the roof of the net.

The second goal finally came after a controversial freekick was awarded to Mexico in the 74th minute. It appeared that the Mexican player jumping for the ball had pushed Marcello out of the way but the freekick was given to Mexico. The Brazilian coach was furious with good reason. Ponce put the ball into the area and an unmarked Peralta headed the ball in from the penalty spot to the keeper's left.

The shock result was on the cards but Brazil weren't going to give up the game. Corona in the Mexican goal had to act as a sweeper to beat Neymar to one ball and several corners had to be dealt with. In the 90th minute a long crossfield clearance fell for Hulk who outpaced the covering defender and hit a low shot through the keeper's legs to pull a goal back.

Brazil pushed forward to try and put the game into extra time. Hulk took the ball from a pass before putting a cross onto Oscar's head. From 5 yards out and without a defender nearby, he managed to put too much weight on the header and it went over. Oscar slumped to his knees as he knew he could have got Brazil out of jail with that chance. The keeper took the goalkick and as the ball flew into the air the referee blew the whistle to confirm Mexico as the Olympic champions.

We stayed to watch the teams pick up their medals - one of the longest medal ceremonies with the 3 squads picking up a medal each along with the officials. The stadium was half empty as we left to walk up Wembley Way, revelling in a deserved victory for the underdogs.