Maccabi GB's Open futsal squad continued their preparation for July's European Maccabi Games with a tough warm-up match against Loughborough.
Their opponents included two current internationals, and the retired international Michael Skubela, England's all-time second most capped player.
The task became even harder when Maccabi turned up with just five players.
Knowing that over the course of the game stamina would need to be preserved, stand-in manager Motti Colman set the team up to defend from deep within their own half, looking to restrict the size of the pitch that Loughborough had to play in, and then looking to catch them on the break when possession was won back.
From the off it was clear that both the tactic was the correct one, and that the GB players that had made the trip were going to do everything they could to keep Loughborough at bay.
The opening stages saw Maccabi pressed back, but all the time maintaining a very tight shape at the back. Whilst Loughborough had a significant amount of possession, the Maccabi boys never looked like they were going to be broken down and keeper Danny Berliner was not called into action. GB were also looking dangerous on the break and were keeping the ball well when they won it back.
The hard work paid off as GB scored with their first attack after eight minutes. Colman cut inside from the left and split the Loughborough defence with a ball between two of their defenders, and when Jon Green collected the pass Maccabi were two on one. Drilling the ball hard across goal, Green managed to pick out Jamie Wolfson at the back post who took one touch to steady himself before firing the ball into the top right hand corner of the net leaving the keeper no chance.
Maccabi continued to shut out the space and were doing an excellent job of frustrating their opposition. With only a minute to go until half time, a deflected shot allowed Loughborough back into the game, but Maccabi went in at half time the happier of the two sides.
The second half saw the introduction of England international Jon Kurrant to the team and the extra player helped give the Maccabi boys a small amount of respite.
A mix-up early in the second half saw Loughborough forge ahead, but the half followed a similar pattern with Maccabi sitting deep, but preventing their talented opposition any real goal-scoring chances. When those chances did come, Loughborough were frustrated by Berliner, who produced a string of good saves to keep Maccabi in the game.
With 10 minutes to go, Colman picked up the ball at the back and sensing an opportunity to push forwards, drilled a pass into Green's feet.
Holding off his marker, Green waited for Colman's run before releasing the ball perfectly into his path. Colman's first touch took the ball beyond the last defender, and started to bear down on goal. The excellent Russell Goldstein, who did not stop running all afternoon, had matched Colman's movement with a clever run of his own to the back post. Colman fired the ball across the keeper for the youngster to tap in to bring the scores level.
With five minutes to play and Maccabi tiring, Loughborough pushed forwards and threw on an outfield player in place of their own keeper and unable to keep up with the pressure and skill of Loughborough, Maccabi conceded three goals in quick succession.
But they were to close the match out with their tails up. In the dying seconds, Colman chased a ball down on the halfway line, and after robbing the England international of the ball, he was faced with a match up against the last defender. As the tackle came in, Colman casually rolled the ball to the left of the defender and his second touch took him back towards goal beyond the Loughborough back line. Green's tireless work-rate and excellent touch, which had caused Loughborough problems throughout, was rewarded when Colman's pass enabled him to tap home to make it 5-3.
As the final whistle went the Loughborough team were quick to congratulate Maccabi on their effort, with England assistant-manager Skubela even suggesting that the side should seriously consider entering the national league next season.
Stand-in gaffer Motti Colman said: "The performance that the boys put on today was very encouraging. Faced with quality opposition and a depleted squad, the boys stood up and were counted. I think we surprised Loughborough with our resilience and ability on the ball, and but for some tired legs late on, the score line may have been very different. Today was a massive step forwards for us."
With not long to go now before the plane leaves for Vienna, the Maccabi boys know that they have a great opportunity to really push on. With some fine-tuning and hard work, this could be a very interesting summer.