Saturni, Aquarius 28, 2077, m249
After a festive awards celebration last week, the questions leading up to the first semi-final match began.
Who would prevail? The Best Team or the Team with the Best Player?
Would the Titans, recipients of the MAFL Best Team Award, climb another step closer to the mountain top, or would MAFL MVP Uday Lanka, lead his Immortals to a shot at Championship Immortality.
Would MVP Lanka shine as he did in their Week 3 matchup in San Olympus, with a legendary 4 goals that day?
Or would the Titans deploy their league leading team defence to neutralize the Amrita offence and hold them to a single goal like they did in Week 10 and Week 17.
Many questions which were finally answered today; The Titans responded with another 2 – 1 win.
“Sorry to spoil everyone’s expectations but the prevailing wisdom in any team sport, especially in Football, is that the best team usually prevails over the team with the best player,” said a happy Titans manager, Paulo Salgado in the post-game interview.
But Salgado wasn’t always smiling throughout the match. In fact, Salgado wasn’t smiling for most of the match, as his team narrowly escaped defeat at the last minute.
At the 17th minute, a sliding tackle on the Immortals’ Tia Mancebo from Titans defender María Carballal, led to a Yellow Card given to Carballal and a Free Kick awarded to Mancebo.
And Mancebo delivered a fabulous free kick that whipped over the wall of Titans players, over a leaping IcilioDe Sisto, and into the far top corner to give the Immortals the 1 – 0 lead.
And things got worse for the Titans. Ten minutes later, the Titans’ Tia Shandu was given a Yellow Card for a questionable push against the Immortals’ Uday Lanka. Shandu’s disdain for the call escalated into a heated discussion and nudge of a referee-bot, which led to a full on Red Card and dismissal from the match.
The Titans were unable to gain any control over the 1st half. While Titans’ leading scorer Readale Nash was suited up, he was in the sidelines nursing the injury he suffered two weeks ago.
His absence was missed as the offensive malaise continued into the 2nd half as the Immortals were able to keep the Titans off the scoreboard for the next twenty minutes.
Thankfully, the Titans defenders were able to neutralize Lanka and the Immortals offence for an equal period of time.
With only 6 minutes remaining in the game, disaster struck in front of the Titan goal. An accidental collision between Titan defender Tarik Girma and goalkeeper, resulted in a dislocated shoulder for De Sisto. Usian Busara was called in to finish match.
This turned out to be the pivotal moment. With five minutes left and their season on the line, Salgado made his move as he shifted to an offensive attack formation – 3 forwards, 4 midfielders, and 3 defenders. No risk, no reward.
Titans mounted wave after wave of pressure on a tiring Immortals team in the dying few minutes.
And it paid off as the Immortals’ Jag Parker committed a foul outside of their own penalty area which resulted in a free kick awarded to the Titans.
After a quick team consultation, Jube Terrell took the kick.
Instead of taking the more frequently used inswinger kick, Terrell delivered an outswinger kick that bent away from the goal, out of reach from the startled wall of Immortals players and from the goalkeeper who instinctively lunged after the ball.
Raenia Ware streaked in from the left side, leaped and connected with a deft header that sent the ball the other direction, top right corner, and away from an overly committed goalkeeper on the left side. Goal! And the game was tied 1 -1 at the 89th minute.
Just when it looked like regular time was over, with both teams resigned to Overtime Penalty Kicks to decide their fate, a fantastic long pass out of the Titans defence by Maria Carballal caught the Immortals players off guard, and caught the foot of a rushing Tarik Lema Girma who controlled the ball and dispatched a superb chip over the Immortals goalkeeper from the edge of the penalty area.
For the deciding goal and win! 2 – 1 Titans over Immortals.
And as the Titans players jumped all over Grima to celebrate, the Immortals players and manager rushed the referee to confirm that the game ending whistle and signal had indeed been delivered before the goal.
No whistle, no signal. Goal stands. And then the game ending whistle and signal came shortly afterwards.
“We had control for the majority of the match but we let this one slip away in the final minutes,” said a dejected Lanka afterwards. “I wasn’t the best player today and I will take full blame for our team’s loss.”
“It ain’t over till it’s over,” said a jubilant Ware in the post-match locker room celebration. “In this game, you play hard until the final end. Our team never gave up. The Best Team won today.”