Northern Cyprus 3-2 Padania
There were scenes of unbridled joy at Carshalton Athletic as Northern Cyprus booked their place in the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup final after a dramatic late comeback victory. The Northern Cypriots had fought back from 2-0 down to defeat a talented and well-organised Padania side who were many people’s picks for the tournament.
After a cagey first half-hour in which both sides passed well and defended resolutely, the Italians broke the deadlock with a goal from Riccardo Ravasi. Northern Cyprus had been in control of the game to a certain extent, but Padania seemed to be playing within themselves and the goal came on the counter-attack, as it had threatened to on occasion.
But the lead didn’t last long, with Player of the Tournament contender Billy Mehmet equalising just six minutes later. Padania gave the ball away down the right and it was fed into Mehmet’s feet by Kenan Oshan. There was still a lot to do for the former Irish under-21 international, but he turned well, held off a defender and slid the ball home from close to the penalty spot.
Again, the joy was short-lived, with Padania silencing the lively Northern Cypriot support with a goal from Nicolo Pavan after some outstanding combination play.
It was a dreadful blow for the Northern Cypriots, coming just before half-time, and seemed to take the wind out of their sails for some time.
Padania, marshalled brilliantly by former Lazio star Marius Stankevicius, held out stoically until the 80th minute, when a bit of accidental head-tennis from a corner allowed Halil Turan to nod home the equaliser.
The balance of the game was changed in an instant, with the crowd loudly and passionately backing the men in red. All of a sudden, the Northern Cypriots were dominant, and they duly grabbed the winner just four minutes later. Up popped that man Mehmet once again with a cool side-footed finish to send his side into Saturday’s final in Enfield.
— CONIFA (@CONIFAOfficial) June 8, 2018
Kárpátalja 4-2 Székely Land
This column tipped Kárpátalja as tournament dark horses after their impressive performance against Cascadia in the quarter-finals, and they served up a convincing display for the first 75 minutes of their all-Hungarian semi-final versus Székely Land. The Carpathians are a well-drilled side, and rarely looked overly troubled by their opponents, yet almost succeeded in throwing away their lead having gone 3-0 up.
Like the match that preceded it in the running order, this was a cagey affair for the first 30 minutes before the twinkle-toed Gyorgyi Toma – who is another that will be in the shakeup for the Player of the Tournament – notched his first of the day. It was yet another moment of genius from the diminutive attacking midfielder, who danced past four Székely defenders and slotted home.
Within five minutes, Székely Land had missed a penalty awarded by referee Mark Clattenburg, with Bela Fejer tipping the spot-kick brilliantly onto the post, allowing his team to go into half-time 1-0 up.
The second-half brought a bit of a goalfest, with Toma completing a brace in the 57th minute, before another penalty – this time for Kárpátalja – made it a three-goal game after 75.
Most would have thought it was done and dusted at that point, but the men in blue found something in their locker and pulled two goals back almost immediately after that Kárpátalja third. The first of those came from the wonderful Csaba Csizmadia, capped 14 times for Hungary, with Székely’s second courtesy of Barna Bajko.
Csizmadia, a towering presence throughout, would be a central figure in the remaining quarter of an hour, launching a succession of balls into the Kárpátalja box and seemingly holding together the Székely defence almost entirely by himself. But there was little he could do when, in the third minute of stoppage time added by Clattenburg, Toma again broke down the left and teed up Csaba Peres to seal the deal for Kárpátalja with a low finish past Adrian Horvat.
Despite being rocked late on, Kárpátalja looked comfortable for most of the game. They will take a lot of stopping.