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De Jong’s Foul, Amani and Other Final Discussions on the Challenge Cup

Sunday futsal, and naturally among the hot topics for discussion among my club mates – all of whom played at least high school football under me – was the previous day’s AFC Challenge Cup championship game.

Karl, on the matter of Jason de Jong’s foul which led to the freekick which led to what would ultimately be the winning goal, noted how he was immediately filled with dread the moment the foul was committed.

His face cupped between his palms, he inched closer to the television set at home nervously waiting for the freekick to be taken. It did not take long for his fears to be confirmed as soon the ball whizzed past Roland Müller to hit the back of the net.

“But of course you would fear the freekick,” I retorted. Karl was a central defender in one of my high school teams, and I quickly reminded him that freekicks conceded in similar positions during his playing days were the sort that could earn any of my players my own version of Fergie’s hairdryer treatment.

I used to wonder what our national teams would be like had the likes of Jolas and Patrimonio had taken up football, instead. But no. In the school where I used to coach, I almost always invariably ended up with the magical blue creatures.
We covered spaces; and players were instructed not to challenge anywhere near the penalty box if the guy with the ball was in no position to do anything dangerous with it, anyway.

Ton, our goalkeeper, had the potential to go all the way; but he had something of a Jekyll and Hyde personality and we never could tell if the Ton guarding the space between the posts would be the one who would pull off a spectacular save or the one who allow a sissy shot to squirm between his legs.

Sorry Ton. The truth sometimes hurts.

After futsal later while waiting for our bowls of chami at a nearby lomi haus, the discussion on the same topic resumed. Ted, another central defender, recalled how one championship game in a high school league was lost because a teammate had conceded a freekick in a similarly dangerous position.

In Ted’s team, it was practically a commandment as sacred as those received by Moses not to concede unnecessary freekicks in dangerous positions, since our goalkeeper at the time was not only vertically challenged but also a bit on the healthy side.

If you get my drift. He would never make the Olympics for High Jump.

Nobody really blamed de Jong, because it was the inability to create chances at the other end that was as culpable as his foul for the loss. But naturally the disappointment after having missed what looked like a very plausible ticket to the Asian Cup was great for discussion while the chami took an eternity to arrive.

The other talking point was Amani Aguinaldo’s two-footed lunge in the first half. We all saw from the replay that he won all ball; but in real time, who knows what the Uzbek referee could have seen?

Besides, even though he won all ball, the fact was that he jumped in with studs showing; and there are fussy referees who will not be too happy to see those. Amani was one lucky boy, this we all agreed on.

None of us was impressed with the Uzbek referee, and there were moments when Phil Younghusband and Patrick Reichelt were not even being fouled. It looked more like they were being manhandled by the overly physical Palestinians.

But the Uzbek referee just placidly looked away each time, as if there was one set of rules for them and another for us. For whatever it was worth, at least he looked away too when Amani lunged.

Honestly, I was waiting for him to point at the spot; although for the record, I do not dislike him any less for NOT doing so.

Back to Amani, I could not stop talking about his being in the starting line-up in a championship game of a continental tournament. The two-footed lunge apart, there were a few other instances of decision-making that will be eventually corrected by coaching and experience.

But nobody really minded as, indeed, the wrong decision that led to the Palestinian goal was ultimately made by an older and more experienced player.

It was what Amani represents, this I am really excited about! I am not really sure how tall the boy is, but in the pre-game protocol he seemed about the same height as Müller. This would place him a shade below six feet.

This means a lot to me.

Height is not as big a factor in football as it is in basketball; but whoever says that it is not important does not really understand the game. Even in mature football countries, talented youngsters are rejected by clubs because they are deemed by coaches as too small.

I used to wonder what our national teams would be like had the likes of Jolas and Patrimonio taken up football, instead. But no. In the school where I used to coach, I almost always invariably ended up with the magical blue creatures.

The Smurfs. In other words, those who were either rejected by the basketball or volleyball teams or did not even bother because they knew that Cherifer did not work.

Amani, let us all hope, has set the example.

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