Tuvalu v Tamil Eelam at Sutton United

“To understand Panjab, you need to talk about the partition of Hindustan, and the effect it had on people of any religion other than Hindu or Muslim. We were just caught in the crossfire.”

I love the conversations that happen around this tournament, and one of today’s was an in-depth lesson on the history of Sikhism, and the consequences of the formation of India and Pakistan on the religion. Panjab is one of the few entities that represents both.

This was a real ‘up and out’ day: four games of football in a day is, let’s be honest, too much. But it was necessary:

I’ve been quietly fostering a small behind-the-scenes goal over the last five days: to see all 16 CONIFA sides in action in person. That probably doesn’t sound all that challenging, given the tournament lasts ten days, but in realit,y it required two results to go my way today. I saw Panjab and Tuvalu for the first time at Sutton United, and I needed both United Koreans In Japan and Tibet to lose today so I can catch them playing each other before the final on Saturday. I don’t want to wish defeat on anyone, especially the loveable Tibetans, but I got lucky: it happened.

Seeing Tuvalu was just excellent. They’re one of those teams who can’t defend, at all, and as the game went on they played a higher and higher line, allowing a fairly weak Tamil Eelam team – a side who hadn’t scored before this game in the entire tournament – to simply play the ball in behind them and run onto it. That said, Tuvalu were surprisingly adept going forward, and smashed in a couple of brilliant goals, including one hit at pace on the volley from 15 yards, to lead 3-1. Both sides also missed a penalty, the Tuvalu ‘keeper making a diving save to keep out the Tamil Eelam finish.

Then Tuvalu capitulated, conceding three late goals to lose 4-3, the last two goals coming in stoppage time. Probably the game of the tournament so far, though you have to feel for the (smaller)  islanders.

After a brief lesson in the history of Sikhism and the importance of the Panjabi identity, I caught the first half of the North Indian team’s win against hosts Barawa, too, which ultimately ended 5-0. They were the highest ranked team coming into the tournament (though not the favourites), and looked very decent if lacking a particularly outstanding playmaker. They’ll play for fifth place next.

Of course, we’re at the sharp end now, with the semi-finals today being played back to back at Carshalton Athletic’s Colston Avenue ground too absolute belters.

Padania and Northern Cyprus were up first, with favourites Padania backed by one very drunk and very vocal fan, chanting like he was on a large Italian terrace throughout, and Cyprus the obvious favourites with the rest of the crowd. In a frantic, physical contest, both sides had decent claims to dismissals, but Padania took their first-half chances, both from through balls, finding space in front of goal to lead 2-1.

Karpatalya v Szekely Land in Carshalton

Northern Cyprus, backed by a loud following, weren’t to be denied, however, and dominated the second half, hitting two in two minutes to knock out the Italians. And prompt mad celebrations. They wouldn’t admit it later, but I suspect they didn’t fancy beating the Italians, who had former Sampdoria and Lazio man Marius Stankevičius spraying the ball out from centre back. The tournament has reached the sharp end, and this would have been a cracking final.

The other semi was a little more cagey, despite a goal-heavy final scoreline, and saw the two Hungarian minority teams, Szekely Land and little-explored late replacement side Karpatalya go head to head.

Most of the local Hungarian community seemed to be behind Szekely Land (including, oddly, some very rowdy Spurs fans), with their game yet again featuring flares and rowdy chanting. There’s a real edge to their support, but they’ve brought a lot of colour to their games which have really added to the tournament.

Karpatalya, who are made up largely of very young and very technical players, were just a little bit too good going toe-to-toe, however. They went 3-0 up, conceding two to a late Szekely Land revival (having already stopped a penalty), and then brought things home with a late fourth.

I have the Hungarians as slight favourites for the final – I suspect most are leaning towards the Cypriots, but I really see something in the young, pacey Karpatalya squad.

Last time around I got a really mediocre day of football. This was one of the best I’ve seen in years. Bring on the final day!

Results (games in blue I attended):

Semi finals:

Northern Cyprus 3 – 2 Padania

Karpatalya 4 – 2 Szekely Land

5th – 8th play-offs:

Cascadia 4 – 0 Western Armenia

Panjab 5 – 0 Barawa

9th – 12th play-offs:

Tibet 1 – 8 Kabylia

United Koreans In Japan 0 – 2 Abkhazia

13th – 16th play-offs:

Tuvalu 3 – 4 Tamil Eelam

Matabeleland – Ellan Vannin (bye for Matabeleland, Ellan Vannin withdrew)

Today, I learnt how Panjab brings the Indian and Pakistani communities together, talked to Paul Watson about what ultimately happened to his team of South Pacific islanders Pohnpei, and experienced the manic passion behind Padania and Northern Cyprus.

These posts, the CONIFA diaries, are not about all that. They’re a very basic overview of the tournament through my eyes, written after each match day. I have hours and hours of interviews, background and stories around each team recorded, ready to go in my book, ‘CONIFA: Football For The Forgotten’, which is detailed and available for pre-order here. For obvious reasons, I won’t be telling them all in blog posts. To get the inside track, buy the book!


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