On a classically grey London evening, 2,500 spectators turned out at Enfield Town for the grand final of the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup. The appreciators of pathetic fallacy among them would have been left overjoyed as Northern Cyprus and Kárpátalja played out a rather insipid, dull 0-0 draw before the fireworks of a penalty shootout brought some life to proceedings.
With kickoff delayed by half an hour to 6.30pm, fans continued to stream into the ground at Donkey Lane despite the increasingly moist weather. Enfield Town’s record attendance had already been broken during the tournament, but that 1,500 figure was shattered once again on Saturday. The queues for the bars and catering vans rapidly became intolerably long as a result.
Not that the weather or the 20-minute wait for a battered sausage dampened the spirits of those in attendance. Throughout the day, there was a raucous atmosphere created by the ever-exuberant Northern Cypriot supporters and a lively, flare-bursting band of Kárpátalja ultras at one end. Both sides began singing long before kick-off, and continued to do so right to the bitter (or sweet, depending on your point of view) end.
Before the game, the two sides were inseparable on the betting markets and the match turned out to be predictably tight. They had already played out a 1-1 draw in the group stages, which was perhaps an indication of the most likely result when they met again in the showpiece.
Over the course of the World Football Cup, Kárpátalja had proven themselves a superbly organised outfit, and in the first half they seemed completely at ease with their opponents, setting up to play on the counter with the tricky Gyorgyi Toma left to roam free up the pitch.
Toma is this columnist’s pick for player of the tournament, and he was a threatening presence throughout, albeit rarely given a genuine chance to express himself by a well-marshalled Northern Cypriot defence.
The Hungarians’ approach was one they had replicated in most of their previous knockout games, and it proved effective once again. Northern Cyprus’ dangerous centre-forward Billy Mehmet was kept relatively under the thumb, but had the match’s best chance to open the scoring with a diving header at the back post. The ball crept under the body of Kárpátalja’s excellent keeper Béla Féjer, but the netman seemed to get enough of a touch on the ball to send it bouncing onto his crossbar.
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Chances, however, were at a premium, and both teams looked tired after six games in just over a week. The game headed inexorably to penalties, with referee Mark Clattenburg – who coped well with the big occasion – blowing for full-time with the score at nil-all.
It was Féjer who was to be the hero for Kárpátalja, first denying the excellent Mehmet before parrying away Halil Turan’s spot-kick and sparking a huge pitch invasion from his side’s delighted players, coaches and supporters.
Kárpátalja are deserving winners of the tournament, but Northern Cyprus brought so much colour and noise to their games that it’s hard not to feel for them.