Thirty-one teams, one prize. The maths is simple: twenty-nine teams would go home empty handed, leaving only three teams to carry the coveted Lan the Baron World Cup trophy home (according to my calculations).
Downhills Park was lit up on Saturday by well over 200 people coming together to celebrate the life of Lanfranco Gaglione in a football extravaganza befitting his legacy, raising an estimated £3000-£3500 for CALM (Lan’s Foundation having already raised over £31,000 for the charity). Gianpiero Gaglione, brother of Lan and organiser of the event, told the crowd at the start of the day that as brothers they had always wanted to stage a 5-a-side tournament, but- as so often happens in life- it never quite happened, and so now that the goals were laid out and the cakes were (supremely) baked, the footballing feast Lan would have been proud of could unfurl in his name.
Summer arrived in the early hours of Saturday morning, apologising profusely for its absence over the past two months. Making up for lost time, the sun shone brightly through most of the day, leaving the Mexicans to show off their sombreros and the Irish to cower away under the nearby shade of trees. Having seen the weather report, Trinidad and Tobago had pulled out and headed to the beach, but regardless a remarkable 200 players turned up from across London and beyond, all ready to give their all for their often hastily adopted nation. Indeed, I never realised Filipinos and Colombians spoke such good, coherent English (or the Scots for that matter).
The teams were split into eight groups with the top two from each group progressing to the knock-out rounds. Word filtered round the pitches that Brazil, Uruguay and Mauritius were looking particularly handy, while Group C (comprised of Holland, Mauritius, China and the unfortunate Cameroon) emerged as the group of death. Goals were literally being smashed in across the park (that’s Argos samba goals for you), Uruguay racking up the highest total of seven in their group games and China managing the highest tally in a single game with a 5-0 demolition of Cameroon (and their goal frame). Mauritius, Ireland, Jamaica and Uruguay all managed to progress without conceding but it was the latter two who took an ominous maximum nine points from their groups. The dominating Uruguayans- drawn from Downhills Park FC- became favourites after their first round display… although doubts over the bookie’s credibility were cast after a suspiciously high number of bets were placed by Italians for a 1-0 loss in Italy’s opening game against Ireland which proved accurate.
I should mention that I was playing for Italy, meaning that I couldn’t see too many goals first-hand, so apologies if you scored a screamer and have not been mentioned. Please feel free to leave a comment below with a detailed, massively over-embellished description of your goal of the tournament. Objectively speaking though, the best goal I witnessed was scored by the Italian utility player Fabio Zucchelli, who cooly side footed- ‘caressed’, one might say- the ball into the near post against Wales. Ok, admittedly even within my own team I can’t claim to have scored the best goal. This accolade goes to Giancarlo Gaglione who laced an unstoppable instinctive effort into the top corner from the half-way line (Carlo, I’ve emailed you my bank account details for the agreed amount).
The second round threw up a couple of surprise results, Mauritius losing against a quietly effective Greece and a highly rated Brazil losing to Holland, who were by now making their clear mark on the tournament. Jamaica and Italy progressed via penalties against Turkey and Portugal respectively, amid heated debate over how many steps constitute one step… “It’s, you know, one step, then another to move toward the ball and then one to plant the foot: one step. I’m glad we’re agreed”. Poland beat the Phillipines 2-0, Mexico taught their conquistadors a lesson with a 1-0 win over Spain and Ireland slapped on the factor 30 to beat France 1-0. Uruguay continued their strong goal-scoring form with a 3-0 victory against Ivory Coast.
It was now quarter-final time, which meant only a quarter of the teams remained, leaving the majority of the defeated to now really commit themselves to the outstanding hot dog and homebaked cake stand. (As a dedicated reporter I dutifully sampled the cakes myself; the banana loaf was my personal favourite). A closely fought penalty shootout saw Ireland progress against Jamaica, Sean Lane scoring the winner. Another tight encounter was won 1-0 by Holland against Poland after the Dutch keeper Connor van Harris made a sharp block to prevent an equalizer. Uruguay repeated their previous score, winning 3-0 against Greece. Italy did as Italy do best and achieved another penalty victory through Gianpiero ‘ice man’ Gaglione after their third successive 0-0 draw.
The semi finals saw Uruguay face Ireland and Holland take on Italy. A closely fought, end-to-end game in which goalkeepers Johhny Gayner (Ireland) and Vincent McSkeane (Uruguay) impressively kept the goals intact until Abel Tekleab unleashed a solitary goal, sent Uruguay through to the final. In the other game tired legs dominated proceedings; Holland struck the post and forced a good save from Greg Dimoline but Itay once again took the game to penalties after forgetting how to score or concede. On this occasion though, Holland showed nerves of steel after the shootout reached sudden death to book their place in the final against Uruguay.
A sizeable crowd amassed on the sidelines to watch the final between Uruguay and Holland. In between though, there was time for the showpiece of the event: the raffle. Among kindly donated gifts were two tickets to the Olympics men’s football semi-final, which clearly sent raffle ticket sales through the roof, and the lucky ticket holder was Adam Kidd.
The final started evenly, but the skilful Uruguayans who were clearly used to playing as a team competitively started to edge possession and territorial dominance. Chances were still sparse but after four minutes Abel Tekleab took his goal tally to four by finishing powerfully in the bottom corner to make it 1-0. The striker celebrated by revealing a Lan the baron T-shirt, to the delight of the crowd. Holland continued to challenge with dogged determination, with Kevin ‘De Jong’ Lacly in particular producing a string of somewhat ‘robust’ challenges.
After half-time the game continued in much the same vein; Uruguay bossed possession but Holland maintained discipline and organised themselves well defensively. In fact Holland nearly equalised after a neat wall pass from Lacly sent a team mate through who fired just wide. Ian ‘Recoba’ Kirkwood then swivelled well to create a chance but failed to hit the target for Uruguay. The last chance of the game fell to Tekleab for Uruguay, but his shot was blocked by Connor Harris. And so the final whistle ended a great tournament, crowning Uruguay the 2012 champions. The golden boot was shared by Harry Parker of Holland Neil Quinn of Mauritius, both netting five times, and Gianfranco Gaglione collected the most man of the match award with three (seriously- I’m not even getting paid for that one).
The day was a veritable success. Lan’s brother Gianpiero: “Even now (Lan) continues to inspire me and everyone who ever knew him. For sure the fundraising events that have taken place over the past few months, that have been so incredibly successful, have only done so through the respect and admiration people held for Lan. He was a perfectionist and anything done in his honour should reach a certain standard. I feel from people’s response on Saturday, he would have been proud”. Dozens of people helped to organise the festivities, including the Gaglione family and many friends of Lan who were more than happy to put time and effort into ensuring that a substantial sum of money could be raised through a smoothly run day that everyone involved enjoyed. Next year’s World Cup is already in the thoughts of Gianfranco and Gianpiero, and something tells me Italy will be back for vengeance…
All photos by Rodmer Paderes
Visit the Lan The Baron campaign website HERE