Day 1. Game 1. Isle of Man v. Cascadia
It’s the first game of the CONIFA World Cup that we are attending in Sutton’s Gander Green Stadium, south-west London, home of Sutton United.
It’s a nice little stadium, with a single main stand where a few curious football fans have gathered to watch the Ellan Vannin men of the Irish Sea oppose Cascadia, the team representing the Canadian state of British Columbia and the American states of Oregon and Washington. Cascadia is a “biological” region, based on purely natural borders and delimitations. Interestingly enough, we are told the team met and played together for the first time only a few days ago. This is a tough first game for them, as the Isle of Man know each other much better and most of them play in the local league.
It’s with a vivid interest that we arrive an hour before the game, time for us to wander about and chat with the managers and a few colleagues here. A lot of us plan on staying here for the other game at 3pm, opposing favourites Padania (Italy) to our friend of Matabeleland (Zimbabwe). The latter has some kind of hype around itself in the media.
We chatted with fellow journalists before the game, including a colleague from Scotland based in California who follows Cascadia. Very excited about the game, he tells us this is a tough one for his favourites and he hopes that they can achieve something great.
The game was highly entertaining, as the Isle Of Man won 4-1 against a strong Cascadian team that lacked fitness in the second half. The fourth goal was an absolute beauty of a free-kick which finished in the top left corner. Overall, Cascadia played some good possession football while the Isle of Man played a more direct type of play.
Game 2. Padania v. Matabeleland
In the second game of the day in Sutton Padania faced Matabeleland. Padania quickly scored , and cruised smoothly to the end of the first half, which ended at 4-0. Matabeleland came back with more will and while Padania scored two more times, Matabeleland’s striker Ndlela managed to score a beautiful header on a corner. It was enough for the crowd to go wild, charmed by the spirit of the southern-african team. The crowd clearly cheered for them, and it was delighted to see Matabeleland try to score more. At full-time, and at 6-1, everyone was clapping the African team who never gave up and entertained the crowd.
We spoke to our friend Justin Walley at the end of the game who told us he was really happy with the football they played at times: “We scored our first goal, and that meant a lot to us. We’ve shown people that we can play football the right way. Nobody wants to lose 6-1 but 4-0 at HT we came back strong. We want to win, I want to qualify.
We also had the opportunity to speak with Busani Sibindi, the general manager of the team who was also delighted despite the loss:
“We are really happy about the second half. The whole preparation, the physical preparation that we did and are still doing paid off. It was easy for our players to finish the game, which is good. It’s one of our strongest points, Matabeleland is very strong. We need to improve our tactical awareness, because these teams are good at this. We need to get better in transitional play. We scored, for our first World Football Cup. It’s a tough result but we are confident. We got two more games to play and we learned a lot about ourselves today. We have a few things to fix, but we are happy overall. Next game is going to be a tough one, we lost a lot goal difference wise so we need to win the next ones to qualify. I really believe we can do it.
We chatted with the captain, Praise Ndlovu, who was delighted with the crowd and how they cheered them: “I would like to thank the crowd who came here and support us, we didn’t expect it. We didn’t know we had such a following in England. I just want to say thank you. Our game improved and for the last minutes we were the better side, we need to grow and win the next games now!”.
It was overall absolutely delightful to see how the crowd reacted to this team, that we’ve been following at the Million Seater Stadium for a few month. We are sure that they made their fans proud despite the result, and we wish them success for the rest of the tournament.
We are now heading back to London, and we will write a last piece tomorrow on the CONIFA World Football Cup.