Saturday 2nd June 2018, 1400 Kick Off
Barawa vs Cascadia
The Build Up
Having been forced to pull out of attending United Koreans of Japan vs Western Armenia on the opening day due to the rest of my life getting in the way, I was well up for my first fixture of the CONIFA Paddy Power World Football Cup, down at Carshalton Athletic.
I won’t go into a lot of detail on what CONIFA is, as that has already been done by others, to a much higher standard than I can produce. There is plenty of information floating around about CONIFA, but for a great and handy overview, you can’t do much better than this, from Alex Robert Ross.
In terms of the teams I’d be watching today, Barawa are the nominal hosts for this year’s tournament, and being a diaspora representative team, they are hosting from London. A port town in the Lower Shebelle region of Somalia, Barawa is the capital of the Southwestern Somali state, and has been a member of CONIFA since 2016. A year earlier, the Barawa Football Association was developed, with the intention of spreading Barawenese culture around the world, and to redevelop football in southern Somalia. Seized by Al-Shabaab in 2009, and subsequently reseized by the Somali government in 2014, the Barawa region has experienced decades of turmoil.
Featuring a large number of players from the Greater London area, a tight-knit group could be key to the hosts making it out of the group stages, and they started well in their first match – a dominant 4-0 victory over Tamil Eelam at Bromley’s Hayes Lane. Refereed by full time narcissist and part-time match official Mark Clattenburg, Barawa’s St Albans City pairing of Solomon Sambou (you can read more about how highly I rate him here) and Shaun Lucien were central to the result, bagging three of the goals between them.
Lining up on the other side were Cascadia, who fared less well in their tournament opener, losing 4-1 to the much fancied Ellan Vannin (that’s the Isle of Man to you and I) in what was the North American team’s first ever international game together. Despite boasting MLS defender James Riley, they weren’t able to live with the Manxmen at Sutton United’s Gander Green Lane.
A proposed independent country (but importantly, not proposed by the football federation), based around a bioregion in northwestern America, the actual extent of Cascadia is disputed, but is generally accepted to include much of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. If you added the disputed regions in Idaho, Montana and Northern California, Cascadia would actually be the 20th largest country on the planet. Strongly rooted in the environmental concerns which are prevalent in the region, the Cascadian Association Football Federation have no stance on the Cascadian independence movement, but seek only to “allow Cascadia as distinct cultural entity, isolated bioregion and growing society with common interests to be represented at the international level in the sport we are all passionate about.” Fair play to that.
As I arrived at the War Memorial Ground, the players were out warming up in glorious sunshine. Having gotten over my initial disappointment that aforementioned Mr Sambou was unavailable to play today, I started to take note of some of the players, and was impressed with Cascadia’s crispness of touch, and some of the Barawa finishing drills were exceptional. I began to think that maybe this wouldn’t be quite the walkover I’d thought it would…
When the referee got proceedings underway, Barawa went out hard and fast, and when Mo Bettamer burst into the Cascadia box after only one minute, he had to be tackled carefully by centre back Jordan Wilson. Less than a minute later, Calum Ferguson had the first shot of the match, when the Elgin City striker received the ball around twenty yards from goal. He turned sharply, but his dragged shot was always heading wide.
Barawa were ahead within ten minutes, when Mo Bettamer added an international goal to the 27 he bagged for Staines Town in the Bostik Premier this season. A tall, strong centre forward, Bettamer is an imposing individual, and caused both Matthieu Braem and Jordan Wilson problems the entire time he was on the pitch. On this occasion, former QPR winger Gianni Crichlow drove through centre midfield and teed up Courtney Jamal Austin to cross. When Austin’s cross deflected back out to Crichlow, he looked up, and bent a perfect cross to the back stick where Bettamer was able to head down and in.
The Barawa players celebrated the lead, and up to this point, it was deserved, as they had been the better side in the opening ten minutes.
From that moment on though, Cascadia seemed to wake up, and that crisp passing and incisive movement I had seen in the warm up came to the fore. Considering most of the players had only met each other three days earlier, some of the interplay was genuinely impressive. On 14 minutes, a good ball down the right hand channel released Ferguson, and when he cut the ball back to Max Oldham, who cut inside, and shot just wide of Hafed Al-Droubi’s goal.
Five minutes later, Corinthian-Casuals’ impressive Oldham was involved again, this time whipping in a free kick that Barawa failed to clear. A goalmouth scramble ensued, with neither side managing to get a firm foot on the ball either way. Eventually as the ball broke out, a Cascadian player dropped a dipping cross which had Al-Droubi worried, as tipped over his crossbar.
On 23 minutes the North American side threatened again, when a lovely move down their left hand side culminated with a sharp one-two in the box. This gave Hector Morales a crossing opportunity, and when the ball landed at the feet of Josh Doughty, good pressure by Ayuub Ali meant the man from Manchester couldn’t get a clean contact, and the save for Al-Droubi was easy.
Shortly after half an hour, Ferguson had the ball in the net for Cascadia, but the linesman’s flag saw it chalked off for offside. The team in white didn’t have to wait long though, as on 35 minutes, Josh Doughty nabbed a well-deserved equaliser. After a good move down the right wing, a Max Oldham cross broke all the way through to Charlie Gregory at the back post. When the Sporting Bengal midfielder clipped it back into the area, there was Doughty to clip home at the near post.
Ten minutes later, and Cascadia were in front. Again Oldham was the provider, swinging in a testing corner which the Barawa defence failed to deal with. As it bounced in front of Al-Droubi, it clipped off Hector Morales’ knee, and the forward from AFC Ann Arbour in Michigan had grabbed the game’s crucial goal.
2-1 up and half time, and it was no more than Cascadia had earned. Slick play on the ball, and solid defending from the likes of Braem (who had a real tussle with Bettamer) and Wilson had laid the foundation for a good performance, whilst Patrick Wilson in the midfield was tidy in possession throughout. In the Barawa shirts, impressive performances from Crichlow and Bettamer were matched by an all energy performance by captain Omar Sufi and Frank Bagnama Keita.
The second half lacked much of the punch of the first (though there was some of that after the final whistle), and was much more even than the first. In the stifling heat both sides put in a huge amount of effort as possession was wrested back and forth in the midfield positions.
On 56 minutes, a neat through ball almost set Calum Ferguson through, but Al-Droubi was out quickly to snub out the danger. Then, on 64 minutes, pressure from Ferguson caused Al-Droubi to handle outside the area incurring a booking as the two carried on their own personal battle.
Two minutes later, it was the turn of Vassar College Athletic’s Will Marment to be rushing out of his area, when a loose pass in the Cascadian backline almost sent Shaun Lucien in. On 74 minutes Cascadia went close as Jordan Wilson rose well to meet a Max Oldham cross, but his header, almost straight down into the ground, bounced wide of the target.
A second yellow card was dished out on 82 minutes when a stray boot by Calum Ferguson caught Zakaria Bachi in the face, giving the Kensington Borough defender a bloodied nose. This was one of a few challenges that resulted in heightened tensions running into the finale of the match. As the referee let lots of nudges and kicks go, it became apparent that both teams were getting frustrated.
When the full time whistle went to confirm a 2-1 win for Cascadia, those tensions boiled over, as a scrap broke out by the benches, featuring the vast majority of players, along with a few fans. Whilst the match officials quite bizarrely stood back to let the scuffle play out, punches were (allegedly) dished out by either side. As the dust settled, the man in the middle sent off both Aryan Tajbakhsh and Josh Doughty, with the latter complaining of being on the receiving end of a sucker punch.
The Wash Up
A disappointing end to the match, which was enjoyable and engaging throughout. Although neither side mustered many chances in the second half, it was tense and felt as though it could swing either way. A swashbuckling first half from Cascadia had put them in the lead, and they managed to hold on despite an energetic second period from the Somali side.
With both Cascadia and Barawa on three points going into Sunday’s group finale, it will be interesting to see who can secure second place behind Elann Vannin, who dispatched of Tamil Eelam 2-0 in the day’s second match.
In terms of man of the match for me today, it was a toss up between Patrick Wilson at the base of midfield, or Max Oldham on the wing, both of whom were influential. Wilson’s poise and control of the midfield were impressive, but Oldham’s assist for the winner, and all round dangerous play sees him pip the No.6 and earn the honours.
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For more information or tickets to the CONIFA World Football Cup, please visit http://www.conifa.org/en/wfc-2018/.