Raiders v Nam An – Cup game

The Background

On a hot sunny afternoon Saigon Raiders lined out against a very formidable 12 man Nam An outfit in the first game ever in the SIFL 11 a side Cup. Having already beaten them twice this season in two close encounters the Raiders knew that Nam An would be extra motivated to secure a victory. They would use every tactic in the book and their new formation with the extra player was pretty hard to deal with. It was also the first competitive game since a very relaxed turkey and beer filled Christmas break. At last week’s intra club game and the two training sessions since returning there was a notable lack of sharpness and the pre Christmas fitness would take a few more outings. Would the skill, determination and discipline of this very strong Raiders squad be enough to overcome the odds? The next 80 minutes would be their sternest test to date.

The Squad

Coach lined up the Raiders in a 3 – 5 – 2 formation. Mirko took a break from his crazy pre Tet rush (of ensuring everyone in Thao Dien and beyond had enough wine to get through the holiday) to take up guard duty between the sticks. In front of him, a returned to top form, captain Olly would anchor the defence and orchestrate the troops on the field. At right back the fearless and tenacious Ohashi would ambush any attacks coming down their left wing. At left back the debonair Nicolas would add some French class to this talented defence. In front of Olly, the warrior Mick, returned from a six month sabbatical (studying samba in south America) to anchor the midfield. To his right the classy Andy would pull the strings right of centre stage. On the right wing the unstoppable Vincent would power from box to box. Left of centre the creative and deadly Ben would shore up and set up with quiet determination. Left wing held the wily Scotsman, Mike who turns on a sixpence and sprays pin point passes all over the park. Up front the speed machine, Hoggy would leave opponents in his wake as he unlocks their defence. To finish off up front, the indomitable and deadly Clemens who’s work rate and skill earns him the respect of every opponent. Starting on the bench the ice man Peter patiently assesses the opposition, ready to bring calm to the oncoming storm. Magnus the Viking, growing stronger and more confident with every outing is ready for battle. Craig ‘the silent assassin’ smiles wryly as he plots how to dispatch his next victim. Pat ‘I’ll take him out, coach’ Grimly-Cartier has been sharpening his axe, waiting to be unleashed. The very determined and deft footed Scott bides his time as he prepares to show what he’s got. The electric Rick who’s pace, determination and silky skills returns to the squad from a winter break ready to light Saigon up again.

The Game

The game game started at a fast pace with Raiders immediately pressing the Nam An team and not allowing them to settle. The reaction of Nam An was immediately get overly physical. Their number 17 in particular (who obviously got lost on his way to Muay Thai class) following through in his tackles with elbows to the face. We looked at their number 12 but to no avail. Raiders reaction was to dig deep and stick to the game plan. The pressure paid up with Clemens finishing clinically from a great Mike assist. Nam An then as predicted, pushed three in attack but Mick then dropped deeper to counter this. The Raiders kept patience and Nam An passed around in their own final third hoping to draw us out of position but Raiders held firm. This forced Nam An into launching long balls which Ohashi, Olly and Nicolas dealt with easily. Vincent had been riding some pretty hard challenges and then one of the Nam An players torpedoed him with his head onto Vincents shoulder resulting in him crashing heavily over the sideline. Their number 12 remained oblivious. He must be a UFC fan. Coach then decided to bring Vincent off for a breather only to discover that the German warrior was pretty hurt. Rick eagerly stepped into the fray alongside Clemens and Hoggy moved to right wing immediately causing them as much trouble has Vincent had .Ohashi was then also rested to allow Scott the opportunity to see how a week without banh mi had helped his fitness (although rumours abounded that he had in fact stopped for one on the way to the game – hence late arrival despite leaving home at the same time as Andy who arrived well ahead of Scott despite getting lost). Scott took up where Ohashi had begun and acquitted himself well at right back. Raiders kept pressing and it was little surprise that Mike again set Clemens again for a sweet left foot finish that their keeper could only watch rocket into the corner. Craig ‘The Silent Assassin’ replaced Ben M at left central midfield and soon became acquainted with the fiery Nam An attack. The remaining minutes continued with Raiders applying pressure but Nam An began stringing some good moves together and making the Raiders work hard to hold onto the lead. Very heavy tackles on Rick, Mike and Hoggy from Mr Muay Thai (number 17) without a word from their number 12 resulted in two Raiders players being booked while asking their number 12 for some justice (or questioning if he had lost his white cane).

Half time came and a well earned breather allowed Raiders to regroup and prepare for the oncoming second phase of this tough battle. Clemens moved out to the wing and Hoggy joined Rick up top in search of a third goal. Nam An were really up for it now and after a minute of the second hit Raiders on the break with their first goal. Game on! This was a tense battle and another Raiders player picked up a yellow card after 6 minutes. Raiders kept pressing Nam An and after 12 minutes Hoggy put Rick in for a great finish. Two goal lead restored. Both teams battled hard with neither wanting to yield an inch. Gary, on the sideline was practising his Vietnamese grammar and some of their players overheard him and pointed out that his pronunciation wasn’t quite right. A few of them wanted to take a break in the game and give him some private lessons but they were thanked kindly for their offer and the game resumed. The Nam An team continued to work hard and scored twice within a minute (21st and 22nd) to tie the score. This was for sure a real cup tie. Raiders continued to press hard looking for the winner. Peter ‘the Ice Man’ stepped into right back to give Scott a rest and to add a calmness to proceedings. So much for calm. The ‘Silent Assassin’ decided to mete out his own not so silent justice as none was forthcoming from their number 12. Play stops and he reaches into his pocket. Silence…… and coach holds his breath. A yellow card is produced and coach quickly decides that the assassin will take a rest as his cover has been blown. In steps Ben M again to help orchestrate the winner. Several Raiders chances followed and when Hoggy evades one reckless tackle from 17 again and races towards goal this must surely be the winner. A Nam An player (who was already on a yellow card) lunges at Hoggy (last man and bearing down on goal) and scythes him down on the edge of the box. Here comes a red card and a penalty. No chance! No card! No penalty! Free kick. What follows is why you are reading this account from yours truly.

Coach calmly walks onto the pitch to firstly check on Hoggy as this was a shocking tackle. When he’s out there he decides to ask the ref if he’d like to borrow his glasses to help him find that red card…..any card. Apparently not. His teammates took exception to the kind offer of assistance and offered some of their own. Coach politely declined any assistance and resumed his position on the sideline.

The resulting free kick again produced no result. The Raiders pressed hard and it seemed a breakthrough must come. The Nam An number 12 obviously had other ideas and called a halt to proceedings on 38 mins.

The rules state that a drawn game will go straight to penalties.

The Finish

This is now a stern test of nerves. Coach has a simple rule when it comes to penalties. First 5 eager volunteers to step up are elected. Up steps Mike, Andy, Hoggy, Ben M and Rick. Brave and courageous souls. Coach calls the team quickly together and reminds them of their great effort to date but they have one more mile to go. Mirko is smiling! He then reminds coach that in his long and illustrious career he has never lost a penalty shoot out. ‘You guys just score and I will save.” Drum roll follows. Just when you thought it couldn’t get more tense…..it did, and remarkably so. Mirko saves the first Nam An penalty to rapturous applause and Mike nonchalantly strolls up to the spot with the cheekiest grin. He’s loving it. Boom! First blood to Raiders. What follows could not be made up. Andy, Hoggy and Ben M decide to tease the Nam An guys by dangling the carrot of hope just beyond them. Nam An score one and then miss another two. Its all even at 1 goal each going onto number 5. Up steps Rick. Immense pressure on him but this lad is unflappable. He steps up and dispatches the ball into the roof of the net. Nam An need to score to stay alive. These lads are no quitters. They equalise.
Clemens steps up to start the sudden death phase of proceedings. This guy knows what it takes to go toe to toe, one on one. Keeper stood as much chance as his opponent at SSC a few months ago. Raiders go 1 up. Nam An score their next . Captain Olly steps up to take number 7. Pressure doesn’t get much more intense than this but captains don’t come more valiant than this. He steps up, looks at their keeper and calmly sends Saigon Raiders into the next round of the SIFL Cup. What a game! What a finish!

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