Image credit: Brad Merrett
Despite a poor first half, former World Football Cup champions Abkhazia recovered to emerge as 3-1 winners in the first match of the CONIFA Sportsbet.io European Football Cup 2019, against the mountainous backdrop of Askeran.
The match was a physical affair from the beginning, pitting the taller Chamerians against the more robust Abkhazians, and at first Chameria’s fast-paced passing game was too much for their opponents.
Chameria used this height to good advantage, with Kevis Gjeçi beating his marker and narrowly heading over from a corner early in the half.
But it was from one of Chameria’s marauding counter-attacking moves that midfielder Fravjo Prendi tapped in the opener – the first goal of the tournament.
With Chameria dominating the early stages, Abkhazia had to resort to sloppy balls high into the box, which were ably dealt with by captain Feliks Cane and goalkeeper Fatjon Collari.
However, despite their passing game often outwitting the Abkhazians, Chameria’s forwards were lacking an end product – particularly the gangly striker Marko van Basten Çema, who unfortunately failed to live up to his prestigious namesake.
By half-time, Abkhazia were struggling to leave an impression. It didn’t take them long to remedy this.
Within moments of the referee’s whistle, Abkhazia equalised, a powerful headed goal by Dmitry Maskaev leaving the Chamerians completely nonplussed – too confused, evidently, to stop another dramatic run, a low cross into the box by Timur Agrba and another goal tapped in by Shabat Logua. After just three minutes, it was 2-1 to Abkhazia.
The momentum was now with Abkhazia. Viktor Pimpiia and Naskaev combined nicely to trouble the Chamerian defence, and Logua was a fearsome counterattacking presence on the flank.
And it was Logua’s rifled shot that eventually sealed the win for Abkhazia – although it was a stroke of luck that the Chameria free kick that led to the goal kick from which came the goal barely lanced over the crossbar.
Abkhazia’s confidence nearly threatened to derail them: diving in search of a penalty, Timur Agrba was taken off by an enforced substitution from a green card, while Taras Khagba was shown yellow for a bad foul.
But they held on, and despite a late period of pressure by Chameria, including a poor miss inches out by Marko van Basten Çema, Abkhazia’s second-half dominance ensured their 3-1 victory.