United drag Caramba into another nail biting stalemate
17 / 05 / 2017
Top bin from Ervins in reply to a 1st-half penalty left absolutely nothing to separate the two
RU revisited old foes FC Caramba on 17th May in their first away fixture of 2017. The handful who mustered the motivation to watch a RFF league football with me under a wednesday evening downpour would scarcely believe that barely 24 months ago, this was the same team that stood tall over United at this very pitch, bullying them 13-2. Ever since, this particular match-up has earned a special reputation of leaving its audience openmouthed in many ways. The past has witnessed red cards, 10-men-down halfs and bicycle volleys - It’s truly lions versus hyenas on Riga grasslands.
0’ The ref’s whistle set the ball rolling and United unveiled a 4-3-3. FC Caramba mirrored the formation, no surprise. From the first minute, Caramba were all set to take United back to school with the fundamentals, quick passing of the ball, switching flanks, waiting for a single bad touch to pounce. Save a header attempt from Josu off a floating ball from Niels, which was called offside, United looked like they were still catching up with the pre-game warmup, while Caramba on the other hand controlled the tempo.
13’ United were already throwing in tackles to disrupt the opposition passing with ease. Unluckily, a throughball left the captain Sofian with no choice but to take out the attacker drawing an early penalty which Caramba clinically converted in their favour.
As I sat counting the game, it was devastating to see our interception counter pile up higher than the completed passes. By the end of the first half, United completed only 39 passes successfully along with 2 unsuccessful take-ons by Ervins. Niels did manage to breathe some hope with a freekick that ricocheted off the keeper’s gloves under the woodwork.
The second half however, saw a transformed United. Awada would later claim that his half-time talk did the trick. Well it must have been a “rabbit outta’ a hat”, for Caramba did not manage to get out of their own half for the first 10 minutes, and United kept cornering them into their own 18-yard box.
50’ the miracle moment. A poor clearance from the corner by a jittery Caramba saw Julian lay it off again to Ervins, who sought some space to whip another cross in. They pressed him hard. He hovered around the penalty box perimeter, and seeing the jockeying defender giving up, pulled the trigger. The ball took off without much spin, but then started dipping towards the end of its flight and landed in the top corner with everyone off their toes. A bite-the-back-of-the-hand beauty by Ervins, and a renewed spirit in United.
After that goal, every RU man instantly discovered an extra gallon of fuel in himself for the rest of the game - especially the heavy duty defenders on the back line. Jon in centre back, who had already established himself as a reliable fullback in the first fixture looked like he was encrypted with defensive DNA, clearing every long ball that missiled into the United half. He would later register the highest number of interceptions in the game. Fabio drew technical fouls upon himself breaking play and winning possession. Emils, who was brought on for Josu, made key passes to steer the counters upstream. Marco dropped deeper in front of the defensive line blocking all channels through the center.
As the game entered the final quarter-hour, the nerves were getting ice cold and the rain showed no sign decline. Caramba were starting to look desperate with a simple command from the dugout: Shoot at sight. Not with Edgars in goal though, who would later pile up 6 saves to his name since that first half penalty. Awada’s strategy as he stated post-match, was to push the full-backs and meet theirs head on, cutting the delivery from the flanks. Arturs and Sofian worked overtime at that, almost throwing exhausted bodies into the slide tackles in the final minutes.
84’ It started to get emotional. This was actually happening. Again. Every United man fought steadfast, working on his strength while his comrades worked harder to cover his weakness. Janis, who came on for the goalscorer Ervins, won all his headers upfront while Cyril and Fabio kept the Caramba mids busy high up the park. The winger Edgars turned defender at the edge of his box. This was all-out league football, worth every drop of rain. Caramba on the other hand, looked very different from their first-half-selves; the frustration beginning to manifest in their game.
The final minutes was analogous to the fight from Rocky IV with the commentator’s words echoing, “Forget technique, forget strategy, this is just a street fight. It’s a question of who wants it more!” Matehus at the heart of the defense heralded the defensive line for the last few attacking attempts as Caramba were exhausting their vocabulary in Russian. With United stacking a whooping 203 interceptions during the game, you can understand why the game was fought with all heart. It was a tenacious battle till the end.
As the referee drew a cold sweat and blew the final whistle, the two stood eyeball to eyeball, shoulder to shoulder.
and I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss it: I think I saw Caramba blink first.