The Red Lions escaped the cold rain of Taipei, heading to the deep south of Taiwan for the Kaohsiung Winter Cup 2012. Having been drawn in what was generally seen as the easier of the two groups, thus avoiding the likes of the Scum, Black Stars, Phoenix, Compass and Eagles.
Instead, the Lions group was filled with the likes of JFC, Pacers, Jhubei, Scunners and Red Star. On paper, this group was there for the taking, but the Lions always like to do things the hard way, and so it turned out to be once more.
Having taken the HSR down from Taipei without incident, the Lions arrived at the Sun Yat Sen University, sponsored by CPC, only to find that the pitches were – incredibly – even worse than the shite we play on for the BML at what once was the Bai Ling pitch.
For the record, the Lions squad consisted of the following thirteen heroic players: Clovis, Jarkko, Volker, Genghis, Mirko, OG, Ian, Fred, Rooney, Panda, Bryan, Spike and Mao.
JFC were the first opponents, and had arrived at sparrowfart with their usual squad of half of metro Osaka, warming up and getting psyched up to play the Lions who were much more laid back in their approach. Indeed, it could even be said that the Lions were a tad complacent, not having learnt the lessons of the double defeat in the CPL last season.
JFC started the stronger of the teams, putting the Lions defence under pressure, but not getting any shots on goal, the Lions doing well to protect their own penalty area. Clovis – it is fair to say – was not having the best of times though, being pulled out of position on a more than regular basis, his heads seemingly elsewhere at the moment. In the middle of the park though, OG and Bryan – aka the Super Mario Brothers – were combining well, and despite the bobbliness of the pitch, the majority of their passes were finding their intended target. Fred, out on the right wing, was always making himself available, and was also given enough space to look for the cross in to the danger area.
At the back, Volker looked a little out of sorts as he tried to get used to playing in defence, Jarkko though solid at all times, and Genghis made several tough challenges and vital clearances to ensure the Lions ranks were not breached. At least not yet.
The Lions started to fight their way back in to the game, but the JFC keeper was not really made to work for any saves. The Lions were gaining confidence, and all the play was in the opposition half. For 10 minutes it looked like a goal was on the cards. And 10 minutes later, it duly arrived. Just…not quite where expected.
JFC were given a free kick 10 metres out of the Lions area, the ball floated in, and a JFC player got a glancing nod that directed the ball away from Mao in the Lions goal, and instead in to the net.
And that was that – with just a couple of minutes to play, the Lions looked like there were no more ideas in the box, and so JFC comfortably ran down the clock.
Next up was a wait of about 4 hours for the Lions to gather the thoughts, and having watched the Pacers lose a 2-0 lead with just 5 minutes left against the Scunners (ha ha) and also draw with Red Star (ha ha), and Jhubei failing to impress … let’s be honest here, there was not a lot of quality to watch, the break revived the Lions, and brought with it a renewed optimism for the games ahead.
Next up Red Star, and the Lions were in no mood for generousity. Quite the opposite, in fact, as they raced out of the blocks, and began what could only be described as a rout. Clovis – quite rightly – was dropped to the bench, Spike coming on instead to team up with Rooney on the left, and Panda was also rested, allowing Ian some playing time.
Two goals from Bryan, 2 from Ian and a fecking stunner from OG (or Ogee as his name was written on the official results sheet) from the edge of the area saw the Lions win with the biggest margin of the weekend. The Lions defence could well have been on a sabbatical for all the possession and attacking prowess being shown by the Lions.
Mao was allowed one touch of the ball during this game, a back pass which he decided to hit long, much to the derision of Volker who screamed “NOOOOOOO”, as the ball landed at Fred’s feet, who was then able to launch yet another attack on the beleaguered Red Star defence.
Next up the Scunners, who had kept a clean sheet against the Pacers, despite being under the cosh for 20 minutes. The Lions though were not going to let things like that worry them, and instead raced to a 4-0 victory, thus claiming the second largest victory of the weekend. Mao may not have even touched the ball for the whole game. That’s how far this game was from being close. The Lions, going from cold to feck me that’s hot instantly.
Bryan scored his 3rd, Ian scored his 3rd, and fecked if I know who else scored, but who cares? The afternoon had ended, the Lions back in the mix, knowing that a win against the Pacers would be enough to put them through, regardless of the result against Jhubei the following day.
So to the evening, and the recently appointed Minister of Health and Education had found a fine watering hole with good fare and plenty of cheap
girls beer. For the first time in recorded history, Rooney was out on the Saturday night with no Red Lions shirt on. In fact, the only Lions player with the correct attire – obviously – was Mao.
The night was a weird affair, with Bryan and a taxi driver having a slight disagreement as to the meaning of a stare, the taxi driver winning that battle by kicking the boys out, leaving them to find another one.
On top of that, adding to the novelties of this tour for Andy Rooney, reliable witnesses have stated that he was on the dance floor, although far from strutting his stuff. It was more along the lines of him shaking his head in disbelief as the “that’s not music” beat loudly in the night club.
OG was all smiles with the girls, although he may want to brush up on his chat up lines. Yes, “you’re beautiful” is a good ice breaker (although a tad cheesy and over-used in the opinion of your humble chronicler) but you might want to back it up with something more than a repetition of “you’re beautiful”.
The next morning, Rooney woke up in the warm embrace of Clovis, Jarkko not even noticing that Clovis was in the room until Roons got out of the bed, leaving Clovis in there with a grin on his face that only Clovis could have. Andy the Bear it is then.
After what was described as a “tame” evening, the Lions assembled en masse at the breakfast table, before heading back to the pitches for the match against Jhubei. Having lost a 2-0 lead to the Lions in the Taipei tournament in October, Jhubei were expected to mount a bit more of a challenge, but instead of the piss-weakest of attempts on goal from kick off, the ball trickling it’s way to Mao, only just, Jhubei’s forwards – who admittedly were still drunk and trying to force their hangovers out by chasing the feckers out with yet more alcohol – were as tame as the Lions night out.
Fred on the right wing was in no mood for forgiveness against his Swedish compatriot, getting stuck in and making plenty of space to deliver dangerous crosses. The Super Mario brothers were also in fine form – passing and moving nicely off the ball, Panda up front working hard, chasing down the Jhubei defence.
At the back Jarkko was marshalling well, Volker now becoming a tad more accustomed to his role at the back, Spike and Genghis truly getting stuck in, making crunching – but fair – tackles, keeping the ball away from Mao in goal wherever possible.
Less than half way in to the game, Panda whipped in a shot that looked like it had beaten the keeper, but Fred nipped in and got the last touch, claiming that Panda’s shot was heading wide. He was the only person in Kaohsiung to believe this, but it is a story he stood by for the remainder of the tour.
Not long after, OG scored his 2nd of the tournament, putting the game beyond any doubt. Jhubei had no answer to this, and the Lions piled on more pressure but could not add to the 2 goal tally, and thus the showdown with the Pacers was set up nicely.
Pacers – on 8 points – needed to win to make sure of progress. The Lions also needed the win, as JFC were hot on their heels, playing Jhubei in the final group game.
The Lions were the hungrier of the teams, but despite dominating the game, could not find a way past the keeper. Not that they rained shots on him. Fair play to the Pacers, they shut the Lions down and did not allow our usual passing game, but if you don’t shoot, you don’t score.
And sometimes if you don’t score, you get burnt.
With just under 10 minutes left, Mao pumped a long goal kick up field, alas with no challenge, the ball was headed right back for the Pacers right winger to chase. Spike and the aforementioned winger made contact, and the ref blew for a free kick.
With Mao shouting no wall, 2 players lined up for a wall, and the free kick was floated in to the far post where the unmarked attacker smacked the ball against the crossbar, the ball then bouncing out, Mao getting to the rebound before the oncoming attacker. But the ref deemed the ball had gone over the line, and awarded the goal. 1-0 Pacers, and that sucked the wind out of the Lions, who were totally deflated and offered no more resistance.
The Lions progress to the semi-finals now rested solely in the hands of Jhubei, who themselves still had a place in the Boot final to play for, knowing that a victory would get them there. A draw against JFC would not help them, but it would help the Lions.
Mao offered additional incentive of a case of beer if they avoided defeat, and this seemed to lift the team, and they played out a 0-0 draw, thus gifting the Lions 2nd place in the group stages.
The semi final was against Taichung Compass, and – no disrespect to our opposition – it was the game the Lions wanted. The Lions were definitely up for it, with Mirko and OG working nicely together in the middle of the park, Clovis being allowed back on to the field after a night of amourous advances with the captain. If you want more playing time guys, you know what to do. Just follow Clovis’ example.
Up front Bryan and Ian were challenging for every ball, the incentive of reaching the final at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Genghis too was strong, making some fine tackles yet again.
Towards the end of the first half, the Lions were awarded a free kick on the edge of the Compass area, and up stepped Volker with a beautifully struck shot that somehow went through the keeper’s hands and in to the net – 1-0 Lions.
Shortly after, Clovis delivered the most delicious of corners from the left, Fred whamming home the header to make it 2-0, but the referee spotted some infringement which no one else noticed, and so instead gave a free kick to Compass instead of the goal to the Lions.
The second half was more of the same, the Lions keeper hardly troubled, the Lions mopping up everything at the back thanks to Jarkko whose keen eye ensured that potential trouble was snuffed out nice and early.
Bryan had an excellent opportunity to put the game to bed, when the Lions were awarded a penalty, but instead of placing the ball firmly to the keeper’s left or right, he blasted it straight at the keeper’s feet, giving Compass still that window of a potential comeback.
However, this miss was not able to lift the opposition, and without being able to mount a serious challenge to the Lions defence, Compass now had to settle for the Plate final.
The Pacers lost their penalty shoot out against Massive, so it was Lions – Massive in the final.
As darkness fell, the Lions piled on the pressure, but yet again failed to score despite the dominance in the possession stakes. Cheered on by both the Scum and the Pacers, the Lions for once had the crowd on their side, yet despite this, they did not trouble the Massive keeper.
As the game entered its final seconds, Massive were trying to force the game to penalties, pushing the ball towards the Lions flag, the ball being cleared finally for a corner in the last minute. With the call of final play, a dangerous ball was floated in to the Lions penalty area, Mao – for once – dominating his space and claiming the ball, holding on to it as the whistle blew for full time.
Massive scored their first. Clovis scored for the Lions. Massive scored their next. Bryan then missed his 2nd penalty of the weekend. Mao saved Massive’s 3rd. Fred missed the Lions’ 3rd, blasting wide, Massive scored their 4th, then Jarkko smashed home the Lions 4th leaving the score 2-3 and so it came down to Massive vs Mao.
Mao knew where it was going.
But Mao is way too fat and slow to have had any chance of getting there.
Massive won 4-2 on penalties.
Yet another excellent tournament for the Red Lions, who can be proud of the achievements. A fantastic evening of food, well organized by the new Minister of Health and Education, and a rather subdued HSR ride home, the Lions knowing how close they had come to winning the cup.
Bryan, for his 2 penalty misses, is fined a round of beers per miss (payable only to those Lions who attended the tournament, and not the Judases who had other things to do, or poofy excuses as to why they were not there – the State has spoken). But the greater punishment for him could be the knowledge that he has slipped behind Tim “Knee” Brown in the Lions penalty taking ranks.
This is something that this half of the Super Mario brothers may never recover from.