Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Åland Islands 3 v 3 Saaremaa

Sunday 26th June  2011
Island Games, Men's Tournament, Group D
Beatrice Avenue, East Cowes
Admission: £3.00
Tournament Programme: £3.00
Match day programme: 20p
Attendance: 78
Match Rating: 4

Following my afternoon match at Newport, I then headed northwards to East Cowes, a 20 minute bus journey, to watch the Island Games encounter between the Åland Islands - a Finnish group of islands located closer to the Swedish coast than Finland, against Saaremaa, located just off the coast of Estonia. The match at Beatrice Avenue, the home of Wessex League outfit East Cowes Victoria Athletic, would also mean I would complete "the set" of senior teams playing in mainland leagues based on the Isle of Wight, although I certainly had not saved the best to last.

Beatrice Avenue is located about a twenty minute walk south-east of East Cowes centre, which involves a steep climb for most of the way, although buses stop close by. As one enters the ground, it is a bit of a squeeze, with the pitch's barriers close by allowing little room to move. To the left of the entrance is a long stand - once again with a rather clautrophobic feel to it more akin to an alleyway, and is not easy on the eye - stretching to the corner flag offering one row of bench seating. To the other side is a small, modern all-seater stand which is much neater and finished in club colours. Hard standing is all that is available around the rest of the pitch. The ground has a rather open feel to it with training pitches behind one length of the pitch, and one could imagine that, on a cold winter's day, the hill-top location and proximity to the Solent would render this a bitterly cold location to watch football. Once again, the tournament programme was available for purchase, plus the 20p, 4 page programme specific to this game.

The Åland Islands have always been a fairly middle of the road team in the Island Games football tournament, with their best performance coming in the last tournament two years ago on home territory when they were runners up, losing the final to Jersey. Saaremaa have traditionally been one of the weakest teams in the Island Games, their best ever ranking being sixth, and have only ever won one game at the Island Games, back in 2001.

With weather conditions absolutely perfect - blue skies and warm sunshine but with the evening making conditions more acceptably cooler for players than had been the case earlier in the day, Saameraa made a blistering start to this game, opening up a two goal cushion with just six minutes on the clock. First, a fabulous,.thunderous strike by Martti Pukk from outside of the penalty area which gave the keeper no chance, and then four minutes later Elari Valmas was given all the time and space in the world to spin and fire home from 12 yards. For the rest of the first half, Saaremaa dominated proceedings and it looked like it would be only a matter of time before they added to their lead, and extra colour and atmosphere was added with the arrival of the vociferous ladies team of Saaremaa. However, Saaremaa couldn't score a third, and suddenly on 39 minutes Åland Islands were back in the game thanks to a penalty by Peter Lundberg, perfectly smashed into the top corner. On the stroke of half time, the match was all-square when Alexander Weckstrom scored with a looping header over the keeper after a long diagonal ball.

Although the Åland Islands appeared somewhat fortunate to be on level terms at half time, they went on to dominate most of the second half, and midway through the second half, they turned the game around completely with a deflected shot by Weckstrom for his second goal of the game. Their lead lasted for just two minutes though, as Saaremaa equalised with a powerful shot across the keeper by Sander Laht.The odd half chance came and went for both sides during the remainder of the game, but 3-3 was how it ended, a fair reflection on an enjoyable game containing plenty of attacking intent.

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