England FC win Olim World Cup
England FC retained the Olim seven-a-side World Cup after beating the USA on penalties.
On the hottest day of the year so far, four years after the last seven-a-side Olim World Cup, England joined Ethiopia in becoming the only country to win the trophy twice. The previous format was an annual event from 2003 to 2007, before budget cuts within the Aliya organisations meant that England's victory in 2007 was the last. That was until this year, when, Telalivit – the online social network based in Tel Aviv, decided to re-launch it.
The build up to the 12-team tournament in the Ramat Aviv stadium became a point of controversy for some, with three non-Olim sides being invited – an Israeli select team, a Palestinian team, who received permits and clearance to play a couple of days before the competition, and a refugee team from the Ivory Coast.
The England side, drawn from players from the top three sides of the JC Olim League in Israel (Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Jerusalem) were drawn in the 'group of death' against one of the pre-tournament favourites USA and a strong Scotland team.
A few hours before the tournament, England's chances were dashed, when key striker, Josh Portnoi missed his connecting flight back to Israel due to the ash cloud, following a work trip in Ireland. With no time to call up a replacement, this meant manager and veteran Jerusalem and former England player Danny Newman naming himself in the squad.
England's chances were further dented in the group stages, when a clash of heads against the USA left Dan Kosky with a swollen and closing eye the size of a golf ball. This reduced England to one sub for potentially seven games in 100+ degree heat.
England qualified for the quarter-finals in second place behind the USA who they lost 2-0 to in the opening game, with England's group game goals coming from Eli Warner - the pick of England players in the group stages - four, Zairi two, Sidi and Scott with one apiece.
The quarter-finals provided some intriguing fixtures. The undefeated USA versus Brazil, Italy versus France and two of the other highly-fancied teams Argentina versus Palestine. England were pitted against tournament favourites Ivory Coast, who cruised through the group stage scoring a hatful, convincingly winning all four of their group games.
With the USA crushing Brazil 5-0, Italy pipping France 2-1 and Argentina edging out Palestine 3-1, all eyes turned to Pitch No. 1, where England changing tactics against the free-flowing Ivory Coast, battled and defended to cancel out everything their African counterparts threw at them. The three-man defence of Sidi, Scott and Zairi, blocked everything thrown at them, and Preston tirelessly tracked everything in the midfield. The entertaining game with chances at a premium for both sides ended 0-0 and the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
Winning the toss, and with three penalties each before sudden death, England opted to go first. Zairi scored, then Davies saved going to his right. Sidi scored before Ivory Coast's second penalty smashed against the bar, meaning England progressing to the semis for the third tournament in a row, shocking Ivory Coast and all the crowds watching.
England faced the strong Italians in the semis, buoyed on by Kosky from the stands, who had returned from hospital, with both teams cancelling each other out over the first half. With the game petering out and looking to head to another penalty shoot-out, England started turning the screw, Stern becoming more and more influential in the middle of the park, with a couple of chances falling England's way. With a few minutes left, a whipped in cross found its way into the Italian net, with the final touch coming off an Italian's head. England held out for the last two minutes, winning 1-0 to reach the final.
The other semi final between USA and Argentina was a fiery affair. Delicate poised at 1-1 at half time, the game erupted midway through the second half, following a USA goal and an Argentinian red card, and protestation which prompted the game to be halted for a few minutes, until order was resumed. Following the resumption, USA added one more to progress 3-1 to the final.
The final pitted the two teams who started the opening game of the 'group of death' against each other. The USA started as overwhelming favourites, having a full squad and still looking very fit. England on the other hand, due to being reduced to the bare minimum following injuries and lack of subs looked tired and jaded.
The fitness showed, as midway through the first half, the USA took the lead. England despite the fatigue after six grueling games prior to this final, regrouped and tried to get back in the game. The USA, with all credit to them, soaked everything up, and even had a couple of gilt edged chances for a second, had it not been for some great goalkeeping and defending.
The game headed into the final minutes with the trophy looking like it was heading to the USA. With one last attack, Zairi headed back into the USA area, and Newman, in an unconventional forward position, swung his right boot to volley the ball into the left hand corner in true David Platt style, with only two seconds" remaining on the clock, sending the final to penalties.
Zairi, Sidi and Newman all hit the target as did the USA. 3-3 and sudden death. Preston slotted his penalty in. Advantage England. Davies kept his cool keeping out Brad Bernstein's penalty, sending the England fans wild. 4-3 on penalties, and the first back to back winners, albeit four years after the last cup.
England player-manager Newman said: "The lads showed a never-say-die attitude, battling through pain, blisters and exhaustion. Despite being up against a couple of better sides, we showed heart and real effort, working tirelessly for each other. Losing Josh just before the tournament, and then Kosky in the group stages meant we were down to the bare bones.
"When I woke up this morning, I was not expecting to play, but to score the equaliser in the final, right on the whistle, I have never scored a more timely goal. Everyone put in a man of the match performance in the knockout stages, and that is what ultimately won us this trophy."
England squad: Simon Davies (Jaffa); Dan Kosky (Jerusalem); Daniel Scott, Yeffet Zairi, Yoni Sidi (all Tel Aviv); David Preston (Jerusalem); Tal Stern (Tel Aviv); Eli Warner, Danny Newman (both Jerusalem)