“It’s a very difficult job and the only way to get through it is we all work together as a team. And that means you do everything I say.” – Michael Caine in The Italian Job
It was oddly correct that at the end of the week where Italy was – in some circles at least – celebrating 150 years of unification, the Red Lions Italians would play a major role in a victory over Fritz that was hard fought, fair, and full of entertainment and passion. The small squad of 13 Lions turned up at the
Shi Lin Community Cow Field Bai Ling pitch for the final time this BML season, knowing that a victory would bring them in to 5th place in the league – no mean feat for a team that was 6 points behind both Dentway and Mitsukoshi as the play-offs started.
The Lions started with Don Roberto in goal, with Don Carlo, Don Paolo and Don Matteo in defence, the midfield comprising of Don Tomassini and Don Jaime on the wings, Don Chancy, Dom Maionese and Don Michele (Gormano) in the middle, with the attackers Don Frederici and Don Allesandro.
The capacity crowd of 4 was treated to not so much of a footballing feast in the first half, as Fritz played possession football, the Lions pressuring the opponents in their own half. When a blatant penalty was not given for a trip on Don Jaime in the box, which even Stevie Wonder could see, you wondered if this was going to be another one of those days where your humble chronicler would perhaps question the impartiality of the officials, but it turned out to be the referees perhaps only error of the day.
A lot of the play was on the Lions left wing, with Don Jaime especially effective after a week and a half of illness. In the middle, Don Maionese was having a torrid time, but worked hard to shut down the Fritz midfielders as they lamely ran through.
Despite having most of the play and pressure, the Lions were unable to pressure the Fritz goalkeeper, the only shot of note being from Don Alessandro which looked like it was heading for the top corner until it hit Don Frederici square on the arse. Don Jaime had a couple of good chances after some mazy runs, but the end shots were either wide or lacking in power.
Not all the play was up the Fritz end though, and Don Roberto was forced in to a save low to his left to keep the scores level. A little later, he was heard to call confidently for a cross, which he merely flapped at, allowing the Fritz attackers an opportunity to shoot, thankfully going wide.
Don Paolo at right back was getting some firm but fair tackles in, the referee not falling for the old “Ai” trick that Fritz were playing. Don Carlo and Don Matteo at the back fought and covered each other well to stop most attacks. But it was Fritz who took the lead against the run of play, passing their way through the defence to slot the ball past Don Roberto to make it 1-0.
And they seemed content with this, or perhaps it spurred the Lions on, but despite the possession, the midfield of Don Chancy, Don Michele, Don Jaime, Don Tomassini and Don Maionese just could not quite get their passing game going, and the final ball always lacked precision. Don Frederici was making himself available all the time, looking for space and working hard to shut down the Fritz defence. Half time came then, and the Lions were 1-0 down, still knowing that this was a game for the taking.
At half time, Capitano Andrea pulled off Don Maionese and Don Matteo, bringing on Don Christiano and Don Michele (Leonecuore) respectively. Within minutes of the restart, the wisdom of these substitutions was plainly visible as Don Christian and Don Tomassini combined nicely on the right, passing in to Don Frederici who slotted home coolly to draw the Lions level.
And moments later after a poor drop kick from the Fritz keeper made its way to Don Tomassini, about 40 metres from goal, the cheeky Italian slapped in a lob-shot which caught aforementioned keeper very much off-guard and who – in similar fashion to Don Roberto from 60 metres during the Bangkok tournament a couple of years ago – was never going to get close to keeping the ball out of the net. 2-1 Lions, and Fritz looked like they were bereft of ideas.
The Lions pushed for a third goal which would kill off the game, Don Jaime making some good solid runs, Don Michele (Leonecuore) in action for the Red Lions for the first time in a long, long time solid at the back. In the middle, Don Chancy and Don Michele (Gormano) worked hard to collect and distribute the ball, the passing much improved compared with the first half.
But despite all the pressure, the Lions were still susceptible to counter attacks from the opposition, and Don Roberto had to be aware on more than one occasion, tipping over from a 25 metre shot, and collecting well from a low, hard cross. But from a free kick, given needlessly by Don Paolo, Fritz got back on level terms, a long pass to the far post was kept in well by the attacker and with the Lions defence not running back, the shot was blasted in to the roof of the net to make it 2-2.
Shortly after that, Fritz won a corner and with the final few minutes approaching thought they had won it as the Fritz attacker glanced a header towards goal. What they had not counted on was Don Roberto actually still being alert enough to make what those on the sidelines commented on as being the second best save of the season (after last week’s effort), the Lions keeper keeping the ball out and Don Paolo clearing from danger.
As the final minutes approached, Don Michele (Leonecuore), Don Carlo and Don Jaime were all suffering, limping from the scars of battle, but a Lions victory would not be denied. And just like Operation Husky – the allied landing in Sicily in 1943 – there was no stopping the advances. With time running out, Don Christiano out-paced his marking defender with Maserati-esque speed, and delivered a trademark low, hard cross/shot which was destined to go off for a throw in on the far side until taking a wicked deflection off a defender and in to the Fritz goal for the final, and victorious goal.
Fritz had two minutes to salvage something from this game, but they were all out of ideas, all out of energy, and all out of luck as the referee blew his whistle for the end of the game, the end of the season.
With that excellent second half performance, Capitan Andrea bows out of the role of captain, Don Chancy being promoted to the rank of Minister of War within the Red Lions Politburo. Don Finocchio – aka Don Roberto Polacco – was most noticeable in his absence, despite promises of an attendance, and is fined a million rounds for (a) missing arguably the best game of the season and (b) being suspended for it. Kim Sun Il has issued a groveling apology, but also does not escape being fined a round.
And Don Frederici, for his best performance of the season, wins the captain’s Man of the Match award, and thereby is also expected to get the round in.