Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In off the outpost: Isla de Pascua y Islas Malvinas


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The summer months can be a frustrating time for football fans as we count down the days for new season. Spare a thought then for the people of Easter Island who got to see the first ever FIFA sanctioned match on their homeland earlier this month.
The bulk of the island’s population came along as 4,000 fans turned out for the first round tie in the Chilean Cup. Among the crowd was a moai statue, one of the 50 monolithic creations which draw visitors to the island from around the globe.
The stone carving glared down on the game after being denied the spectacle of competitive football for around a thousand years.
This was much more than just a game as the opponents for Rapa Nui, as the island is called by locals, were no other than Colo Colo. The side from Santiago are the biggest supported club in their country and with 28 domestic titles to their name they have become known as ‘The Manchester United of Chile.’
As a mark of Colo Colo’s fanatical support they managed to sell out their allocation of 500 tickets for the game 2,300 miles away from the mainland.
The fans of El Eterno Campeón were treated to a carnival atmosphere before, during and after the game as the locals turned out in traditional Polynesian grab, face paint and showed off the dances of their ancestors.
On the pitch before the kickoff the players of Rapa Nui performed a sacred dance similar to that demonstrated by their Southern Pacific neighbours the All Blacks.
When the draw is made for the third round of the FA Cup later this year we will scan through the ties looking for potential giant killings. However, if ever David took on Goliath in a game of football then surely this was it.
The pitch on Easter Island could kindly be described as poor with tufts of grass sprouting through sand on the pitch just yards from the beach and subject to the biting winds of the Pacific Ocean.
Canal 13 were in place to beam the historic encounter back to the mainland. The two huge crane cameras towered over the pitch and six more were in place to ensure the best angle was available for every kick of the action.
In the technical area for Rapa Nui was Miguel Angel Gamboa, a former Chilean international who appeared at the 1982 World Cup. Gamboa had arrived on the island a few weeks before the cup tie to select a side from the craftsmen, fisherman, farmers and dancers who turned out for the six amateur sides on the islands.
“My players are still to really discover what it's like to play a top-flight team,” Gamboa said in anticipation of the game. “I'm aware that there'll be a big gulf between the sides. But we've prepared as best we can and we won't give in without a fight.”
As it turned out Colo Colo managed to establish a lead at half-time thanks to two goals in two minutes. The first was an unfortunate own goal by Rapa Nui’s Javier Perez and the second came from a powerful strike by Paraguayan international Cristian Bogado.
The crowd remained in good spirits however and there was a big commotion on the terraces when Jovino Tuki looked to have pulled one back for the island before referee Carlos Chandia disallowed the goal for handball.
In the second half another goal from Cristian Bogado and a converted penalty from substitute Phillip Aras assured Colo Colo’s passage to the next round.
Rapa Nui may have failed to cause an upset but the event was seen as a great success for football on the island and they have already started preparations for next season’s assault on the Chilean Cup.
On the other side of The Andes and a good 4,000 miles away from Rapa Nui is a place more renowned for a war than the natural unkempt beauty that also exists there.
The Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas when you're in Argentina, sends a team to compete in the Island Games every four year. The tournament covers a wide range of sports including football and allows places such as Guernsey, Bermuda and Greenland to compete against each other.
The 2009 Island Games were held in Åland, an archipelago in the Baltic Sea under the rule of Finland. In the football final the tournament’s historically most successful team Jersey claimed their third title with a 2-1 win against the hosts.
Stanley, the team from the Falklands, finished a disappointing 16th in the football after suffering defeat in all four of their matches. After narrow 2-1 and 2-0 defeats to the Isle of Man and Gotland of Sweden respectively a heavy 7-1 reverse was inflicted by the Scottish Western Isles before the tournament ended with a 3-1 loss against Frøya of Norway.
It has been a rather unlucky thirteen encounters which the Falkland Islanders have competed in the Island Games. But even with eleven defeats, ten goals scored and forty-nine conceded the team will be back in four years time after skipping the 2011 edition of the cup due to the vast expense of travelling.
Cheer on the cold nights on the island in the meantime can be found in retelling the stories of the 4-1 victory over Orkney back in 2001 and the 2-1 lesson dealt out to Saaremaa of Estonia four years later.
The domestic football scene on the islands comprises of a revamped four team league including The Globe Tavern, All Saints and Kelper Celtics. Games between these teams as well as friendlies against sides from army bases and visiting warships provide players of the islands’ national team with year round football.
So next time you are feeling sorry for yourself when football enters its summer vacuum and we have to make do with the odd Confederation Cup game, think about the good folk following the game from the world’s footballing outposts and making do the best they can.

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

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