Britannia (4) 6
5, 24 Keane
9, 47 Morris
Casablanca (1) 3
3, 33, 35
@ C.D. Delicias 19.00 02.04.17
And so it came to pass, the hour of do or die. Britannia had managed to claw their way to the mouth of the cave, now, one last push would get them into the sunlight of safety. Their opponents for this final struggle, Bar Casablanca, were already condemned to the drop and had the opportunity to drag the Brits into the darkness with them. The young and talented Casablanca were no push overs and the Brits were going to need to play at their best to ensure league survival.
In blustery and unpredictable conditions, the nerves were apparent as the teams warmed up. The Brits, joking and relaxed on the face of it, but contemplative and resolute as they considered their task.
The game got underway at a brisk tempo. With barely two minutes on the clock Keane was booked for bringing a Casablanca run to an abrupt halt just outside the area. The resultant free kick was steered into the near post with aplomb. The nerves jangled as once again, Britannia had contrived to make their task even more difficult within moments of the start. Casablanca demonstrated good close skills and well organised passing movement but the Brits had their secret weapon, burning desire.
The response was almost immediate. Morris driving forward, was blocked and forced a throw. He combined with Piedrafita, the resultant pass pierced the Casablanca back line and Keane surged through to finish.
The Britannia attack came alive, finding joy with every move forward. Casablanca seemed to have a soft underbelly in defence, the Brits finding space and opportunities. It was not long before Keane unlocked the defence and Morris bundled the ball through a defender and the keeper to put the Exiles into the lead.
Suñer, as coach, shuffled his pack, rotating the players and Ramos returned after a lay off for injury. He exploited the gulf of space to be found in the final third and almost immediately terrorised the Casablanca goal. His shot crashed down off the bar and seemed to cross the line before bouncing clear. The referee waved away the appeals and the game continued.
Casablanca continued to show excellent skills but the Brit defence held firm with Marcuello making a welcome return to the line up and leading the back line with vision and awareness. Britannia turned almost everything into an attack, breaking with speed and numbers, it was inevitable that they would add to their tally and Ramos did so as the Brits started to believe. They had hoped for a decisive first half against the youngsters, trying to avoid a nervous finish and it seemed they were fulfilling their intentions with style and confidence.
The space behind the Casablanca defence got greater still as they pushed higher to claw back the game, quick balls out to Morris found them exposed and as others rushed forward in support they also were frequently outnumbered. The team were queuing up to take shots at goal as the Casablanca resistance wavered. Morris came close with a delightful chip, Keane, Piedrafita, Ramos and Gilman all made the keeper work. The Brits were dominant and dangerous.
As halftime approached Morris turned his marker on the centre spot and surged forward after the ball, he jinked past the last tackle and drew the keeper, Keane burst into the box alongside him and Morris unselfishly cut the ball back across for him to hit his second and the Exile’s fourth of the half. The move was almost repeated in the next play but the whistle for half time drew the contest to a halt and the teams paused for breath and tactics.
The second half started with much the same pattern as the first had closed with Britannia finding space and pouring forward into it with energy and determination. The trident of Wells, Ramos and Gilman started the second half and probed the opposition, but Casablanca started to counter attack more effectively and as the half progressed the balance of power started to shift.
Casablanca started to find passes through the Brit back line and the referee penalised a tackle on the edge of the area. A well taken free kick, along the ground, under the jumping wall found the near post and Casablanca were resurgent. Barely two minutes more passed and Britannia played themselves into trouble, failing to clear their lines and a thunderous shot from just beyond the penalty area brought the game back into contention.
Britannia needed to maintain their winning position for 15 minutes. They continued to probe forward but the opposition had grown in confidence and were proving far more successful in their attacks. The Brits came deeper to defend, Casablanca camping out on the edge of the final third, searching for weaknesses. The Exiles defended with tenacity and ferocity. Throwing their bodies on the line to break up attacks then unleashing the ball for rapid counter attacks. The game had become a lung buster, neither team looking to slow the pace or relent in the pressure being applied.
The opportunities at either end were too numerous to count. Keane uncharacteristically pulled the ball high when perfectly placed to calm nerves. Ramos smacked a thunderous shot off the far post. Gilman was denied by a valiant save, Wells stretched to reach a vicious cross ball from Morris who was proving a constant nuisance to the opposition, either with attempts on goal, providing passes to others or drawing the marker to make space.
Things were no less dramatic at the other end. Interceptions and blocks seemed to fall to the opposition, but Perez was imperious at the back, pulling off some delightful saves and working as a sweeper keeper to break up the counter attacks as they came. The match entered the final five minutes with no change in tempo and the result still in the balance. Then Piedrafita finally put Casablanca to the sword. A cutback found him lurking at the edge of the area, he shaped up and rifled the ball home. The celebrations were of relief, as the team now sensed that they had finally preserved their league status.
At the restart it seemed that finally the fight had been taken out of the opposition. Britannia swarmed forward and Morris bagged his second with a sublime chip over the keeper sending the Brits into exhausted safety.
The Brits started to enjoy their game, Alejandro Larrago put in a cameo appearance up front and tried to get on the score sheet. He could feel aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty much as Keane should have had a free kick when flattened on the edge of the box. Morrisey wrapped his boot around the ball on the edge of the area and the volley narrowly failed to find the net with the keeper stranded. It would have been a deserved goal for the relentless defensive shift the Irish man had put in week after week.
The contest was brought to a close by the referee. The Brits celebrations were muted. The exertion of the game having taken a heavy toll and a sense strong respect to their opposition who had played with desire and determination in a match that had no bearing on their fate. They slumped to the floor as the Brits hugged in relief.
Unquestionably, the emotions of the victory the previous week, which had set up the improbable escape in the final match, had been higher than the actual survival. Perhaps it was a feeling of frustration as the team reflected on the possibilities of what might have been had they had got more points on the board, or optimism as to what awaits next season or perhaps thoughts had already turned to the cup. The dressing room was muted but the smiles were broad.
A small core of the team gathered for a quiet beer to relish the achievement of survival and reflect on the season, memories of moments were shared and as the sun left the sky players headed home to be ordinary men once more. They had set foot in the arena, fought and bled, each had played their part in the improbable tale of escape. There is no silverware for survival, but this triumph, however small, was sweet enough.
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