U.S.-NATO soccer team wins IMCOM-Europe championships
October 27, 2008
HOHENFELS, Germany-Going into the 2008 Installation Management Command-Europe's Community Level Soccer Championships, it was anyone's game, as no team finished the regular season undefeated.
Prior to the tournament, SHAPE Coach Karl Lenau was confident his tournament team made up of Servicemembers and civilians from eight NATO nations would make it to the semi-finals, but after watching the teams warm up, his confidence level rose.
"There are no teams here that should beat us," he told the players before their first match. "The only team that can beat us is ourselves."
Those words seemed easily apparent as SHAPE shutout its first three opponents during the round robin play. They defeated Stuttgart 3-0, Heidelberg 4-0 and Hohenfels 1-0, guaranteeing them a number one seed in the semi-finals.
Mannheim also earned a number one seed in its division, and Stuttgart and Kaiserslautern made it to the semi-finals as a second seed.
SHAPE's adrenaline was pumping during the semi-final matchup against K-Town because they lost to them by one point during regular season play.
Unlike previous teams in the tournament, Kaiserslautern scored a point against SHAPE, during a penalty kick, but SHAPE proved to be too strong as they led the entire game and beat K-Town 4-1.
While Mannheim was the favorite in the second semi-final match, Stuttgart pulled off an upset, winning 6-5, forcing a tournament rematch between SHAPE and Stuttgart.
An early penalty against SHAPE helped Stuttgart score their only point and put SHAPE behind for the first time all weekend. It wasn't looking good for SHAPE as time was ticking down and the score remained 1-0 Stuttgart.
Then, with just minutes left on the clock, John Fuoco, a U.S. Soldier, with an assist by Steiner Bratshaug, of Norway, scored to tie the game up 1-1, forcing the match into overtime and a five-man shootout.
SHAPE and Stuttgart made their first two goals, but goalie Christos Alexopoulos, of Greece, blocked Stuttgart's third kick while SHAPE made theirs, putting the score at 4-3. Stuttgart had one more chance, but missed. Andreas Moencke, of Germany, made the final shot for SHAPE, giving them a championship win with a final score of 5-3.
"It was thrilling to watch this game right down to the wire," said Stacye Downing, director, Hohenfels, Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation. "It was very impressive," she added before presenting the team with the 2008 championship trophy.
"I'm really proud about this team," said Lenau, of Germany. "This is the best that I've seen this team in a really, really long time. Everybody was good in this tournament."
The overtime drama wasn't limited to just the championship game. Kaiserslautern, who became the tournament's Cinderella team, faced Mannheim for a battle between third and fourth.
Going into round robin play, K-Town had an immediate disadvantage, as it was short two players against all other teams. They managed to hold their own however, as they tied Grafenwoehr 3-3 and Mannheim 2-2, on day one and beat Wiesbaden 3-1 on day two.
Although K-Town beefed up their team for the semi-finals, Mannheim was favored to win and was backed by more fans than all the teams combined.
"I knew it was going to be a tough game," said Lewis Sandoval, goalkeeper, K-Town. "We were leading the whole time, but they're a good comeback team."
A final score of 2-2 forced this battle into overtime, as well. Each team selected five players for the shootout, and Sandoval hoped to be among the five, but wasn't chosen.
As goals were scored on both sides and the score rose to 12-12, there were no players left to shoot except for the goalkeepers and Sandoval finally got his chance.
It was goalie on goalie, and Mannheim's keeper Mazi Siameja was up first. He shot and Sandoval blocked it. Although the refs had called numerous reshoots in the overtime battle, they confirmed Sandoval had a clean block.
All that was left to clinch the game was a shot by Sandoval. K-Town players cheered him on. A couple steps, a swift punt and a whistle by the refs, signified a goal and a win. K-town's players rushed to Sandoval to celebrate, as they earned the third place title with a final score of 13-12.
"We came with nine players and still qualified to make it to the finals," said Sandoval. "All the pain for these last three days was worth it."
Stuttgart placed second, Mannheim finished fourth, and Mannheim's Fabion Medhanie was awarded the Most Value Player, after scoring a tournament total of 11 goals.
Next for IMCOM-Europe is the 2008 Unit Level Flag Football Championships Nov. 6-9 at Grafenwoehr. The following week, USAG Grafenwoehr will host the 2008 Community Level Flag Football Championships.