ConIFA 2018: Mo Bettamer Blues

by | Jun 6, 2018

Barawa’s emphatic World Football Cup quarter-final defeat may be seen as poetic justice, after the controversy surrounding Barawa’s Libyan international striker Mohamed Bettamer led to Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man) withdrawing huffily from the competition.

The ‘hosts’ were dismantled by Northern Cyprus. But not before Ellan Vannin appealed the Staines Town man’s inclusion in Barawa’s squad DURING the tournament (which, admittedly, is pretty late), before Barawa played Cascadia on Saturday, where Bettamer opened the scoring and was a combative presence throughout, despite Barawa’s ultimate 2-1 defeat.

Twenty-four hours later, Ellan Vannin lost to Barawa. And Bettamer, inevitably, scored in the two-nil defeat, his goal effectively eliminating Ellan Vannin on goal difference in the tightest tournament group (a ‘Group of Death’ if the matches hadn’t been so lively).

The ProstAmerika website’s Cascadia/Barawa match report said Bettamer’s “appearance on the teamsheet had caused consternation” as he “was not in the squad submitted…on deadline day and seemed to have been added purely to better the squad in a manner refused to other squads.”

Of course, Cascadia beat Barawa and qualified. So, Ellan Vannin were even more dischuffed. The Manx International Football Alliance (MIFA) requested their reinstatement in Barawa’s stead. CONIFA’s management committee rejected this appeal in huge detail, explaining that Barawa had been “advised by a club that two selected players could not participate,” one hour before their first match” last Thursday and, on the Friday, asked for permission for Bettamer to join their ranks.

CONIFA’s decision to accepted Barawa’s request was, helpfully “not communicated to the other participating teams,” which explained the “consternation” to which ProstAmerika referred. And, remarkably, CONIFA added they had accepted Barawa’s request because a majority of participating teams had not complied with the squad registration deadline and had been permitted to make changes following that deadline” but “prior to” 31st May.

Monday was a tournament rest day. But not for CONIFA committees, who rejected Ellan Vannin’s appeal in the morning, allowed Ellan Vannin to appeal that rejection in the afternoon and rejected THAT appeal in the evening, while accepting that their decision-making process was “flawed by procedural irregularities” with “voting procedures.” When these were followed, Ellan Vannin’s appeal was rejected 13-7, Bettamer’s continued participation was permitted 9-5, “with five abstentions and one uncast vote.” And CONIFA wearily reiterated in mitigation “that it is a volunteer-run charity.”

MIFA formally…er…tweeted that ”it has been an absolute pleasure to meet” the competing teams and hoped those teams would never “experience what our management and players have been put through.” The Isle of Man Today newspaper reported that Ellan Vannin’s “placing match against Tibet” was “in serious doubt, with relations between MIFA and CONIFA under serious strain as this debacle looks set to rumble on.” Ellan Vannin withdrew from the tournament. But matters probably SHOULD rumble on. Meanwhile, Barawa marched on…until…

Barawa 0 Northern Cyprus 8 (EIGHT)

Bettamer cut a forlorn figure and an occasionally very lone striker indeed, as Northern Cyprus plundered seven second-half goals at Sutton United with a breathtaking display of fast, incisive counter-attacking which more than atoned for their feeble first-half finishing.

The Northern/Turkish Cypriots were only one-up at half-time but after the second 45 minutes on-the-dot (a compassionate referee using his discretion to dispense with stoppage-time), the match was a Barawa consolation goal from going full Barnstoneworth United (google ‘Eight-one! Eight-bloody-one!’ for details).

Barawa looked pacy on the break in the opening half…but only about three times, as the game quickly became a procession towards Barawa keeper Calvin King’s net. Northern Cyprus should have led on nine minutes. Tansel Ekingen bore down unchallenged on goal and squared the ball for Ugur Gok to tap into an empty net as King on-rushed to try and deal with the danger, only for Gok to locate an invisible banana skin as the ball rolled gently by.

Gok atoned six minutes later when King parried Firat Ersalan’s shot and Gok adeptly side-footed home the briefly loose ball. But Barawa’s goal led a charmed life over the next ten minutes as Northern Cyprus failed to take half-a-dozen clear cut chances (which were resolutely NOT ‘at a premium’). King made two good saves and one very good save indeed. But Kenan Oshan missed the clearest chance of the lot, heading wide when left wandering as lonely as a cloud on the six-yard line from a corner.

Barawa tactically replaced their skipper Omar Sufi, which briefly stemmed the tide towards their goal. Gok side-footed a 43rd-minute chance a ball width wide after this spell where Barawa were NOT on the ropes. But it wasn’t long before they were through said ropes head-first and flailing about in the ringside seats. Serhan Onet must have been the only onside one of four unmarked Northern Cypriots, as he headed home Ersalan’s 51st-minute free-kick, which was harshly awarded in the first place.

However, Barawa’s immediate sense of injustice dissolved as Halil Turan headed home Unal Kaya’s cross three minutes later and four further minutes later Ayuub Ali turned ex-Ireland under-21 international Billy Mehmet’s cross into his own net from six yards, like Northern Cyprus needed the help. An incredible SEVEN minutes elapsed before Northern Cyprus went nap, Turan bulging the roof of the net after a quick, slick break.

It was six-nil on 79 minutes, Gok whacking home Ahmet Sivri’s pass from 20 yards. Number seven arrived four minutes later, Mehmet heading home Ersalan’s corner and celebrating as sheepishly as possible without covering himself in wool and crying “baa!” And Ekingen rounded off the scoring after yet more quick, slick stuff with two minutes left.

Northern Cyprus face Padania in the semi-finals, after the Northern Italians finally put Panjab’s increasingly tired-looking title tilt out of its misery. Second-half goals by Giacomo Innocenti, from the penalty spot, and Nicolo Pavan, in the last minute, gave them a 2-0 win over a flat Panjab, whose extensive series of pre-tournament warm-up games may have caused some overheating after four actual tournament games in six days.

Padania’s change kit is green-and-white hoops which, as their first kit so resembles the flag of St George, is…surprising.

Cascadia 1 Karpatalya 3

If Barawa’s second-half display was a shock to their system, the same could be said of Cascadia, who fell victim to a shorter but ultimately as effective burst of fast, incisive counter-attacking from Karpatalya.

Karpatalya’s kit doesn’t fit” was the extent of my match notes for about half-an-hour of a fast, furious but frustrating first half. Although I did also note that one guy lurking near the dugouts, microphone in hand, looked a little bit like Bristolian, Welsh-sounding stand-up comedian Mark Watson. Turns out it WAS Bristolian, Welsh-sounding stand-up comedian Mark Watson. Blimey, eh?

Er…anyway, as half-time approached, Cascadia began to assert some control, to the point where it was clear that, as I texted to a friend at half-time, “Cascadia will win.” My “you’ll win nothing with kids” moment, it transpired.

Karpatalya led on 48 minutes, Gergo Kyurki driving in the rebound after Cascadia keeper Will Marment saved Gyorgi Toma’s shot and the statuesque defence stood like…statues. On the hour, Ronald Takacs was on rebound duty when the magnificent and magnificently long-shorted Toma’s shot was blocked after his mesmerising run between Cascadian cones. Two minutes later, Zsolt Gajdos wasn’t balanced enough to head in HIS rebound after Marment saved Kyurki’s shot. And two minutes later still, Marment denied Zoltan Baksa after another lightning break from the increasingly energetic Kyurki.

Cascadia grabbed an unexpected lifeline when substitute Hamsa Haddadi fired home on 80 minutes. But six minutes later, the referee took the scissors to that lifeline, awarding Karpatalya a penalty with a surprising, misplaced confidence after a loose fibre of Cascadian centre-back Patrick Wilson’s shirt brushed against an indeterminate part of Gajdos’s anatomy, sending the midfielder sprawling.

Are you kidding me?” Wilson asked, loudly, twice, as if expecting the ref to say “hah, yes, actually, sorry.” Gajdos thumped home the penalty and Cascadia (drum roll) cascaded (hey, you knew that was coming) into the fifth-to-eighth place placement games.

Karpatalya’s semi-final will be against fellow ethnic Hungarians Szekely Land, who were convincing winners over Western Armenia after the Armenians lost Raffi Kaya to an 18th-minute red card (plus their coach and another player, Hirac Yayan, as their evening regressed). Tanko Zsolt gave Szekely Land the lead 18 minutes later. And Csaba Czismadia, Lorand Furlop and Barna Bajko netted in the second half, as the Western Armenians maintained their reputation in this tournament for ill-discipline.