There is an old saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and East Turkistan began their international footballing journey on the front foot on Saturday afternoon with a comprehensive 8-2 victory against West Papua at the Sportpark Nieuw Hanenberg in the Dutch city of The Hague.
Although East Turkistan’s squad are drawn from a pool of players based in nine countries across the globe, both teams are essentially based in The Netherlands, so it made sense for the fixture to be organised at the home of HVCV Quick, a team with its own proud footballing history – it has one national championship and four KNVB Bekers to its name.
Right from the off, East Turkistan were in control, and although they missed a couple of good chances early on – Ripkat Bilal hitting the post when yards clear inside the penalty-area being the most glaring – Ihtiyar Yusupov’s delightfully-curled free-kick in the eighth minute beat West Papua keeper Romano Kandhai at his left-hand post to put them in front and score his team’s first-ever international goal.
Bilal missed another three chances in the next three minutes, the worst of which was when he put Alisher Tashmetov’s cross over the bar from three yards out, and he and East Turkistan were made to pay after 20 minutes when Rudy Gell de la Cruz burst past two defenders in the penalty-area and rifled the ball past Ablet Shemshi to equalise superbly.
At the other end, East Turkistan’s Abdushukur was having his own personal battle with Kandhai, who saved two of his efforts, and it was Kandhai, who, together with the Turkistanians’ profligacy in front of goal, was keeping his side on level terms. But, Abdushukur put his side in front on the half-hour, beating a defender inside the box and slotted the ball into Kandhai’s bottom right-hand corner. It was 3-1 after 36 minutes, Salaydin Tursun strolling into the penalty-area and slotting the ball inder Kandhai.
Three became four three minutes later, when Bilal finally got his goal, being in the right place at the right time to hook the ball into the roof of the net after Ilham Seleyev’s corner came back off the crossbar. Alisher Tashmetov almost made it 5-1, but his rasping shot from the edge of the box flew just wide of Kandhai’s right-hand post. Tashmetov made amends just before the break when he picked up a loose ball on the left, ran on unopposed and unleashed a shot from twenty yards out which flew past the keeper and into the net.
Kandhai started his second half by superbly keeping out a header from the East Turkistan number 6, who entered the fray at half-time, his flying one-handed save being the pick of his many stops of the afternoon. Another couple of chances were missed before East Turkistan finally made it 6-1 on 62 minutes; a corner-kick from the left-hand side made its way to Abduryin on the far side, who swung his boot at the ball from 18 yards out, and it bounced through the defence and beat the hapless Kandhai.
A rash of substitutes, and an awful miss from the Turkistanian number 6, followed before East Turkistan scored their seventh through Yusupov, who beat Kandhai with a forceful shot from a central position just inside the area with an quarter of an hour still to play.
East Turkistan’s substitute was not having the best of days after coming on at half-time, and he missed three golden chances to further increase his side’s lead, the first before Yusupov’s goal, when he outstripped the West Papua defence but shot woefully wide from ten yards out. Then, he did all the hard work himself, winning the ball and running into the area before he ballooned the ball wide with only Kandhai to beat, and he then slammed the ball over the bar and out of the ground when, again, unmarked and in a good position on the right-hand side of the box.
An eighth goal for the Turkistanians did eventually come with four minutes to go, and it was perhaps the only blot on Kandhai’s otherwise impressive stint in goal. Spotting Kandhai well off his line, Elzat Kader let fly with an opportunist shot from the centre-circle which beat the backpedalling goalkeeper, struck the underside of the bar and flew into the back of the net.
West Papua had been playing well for the last ten minutes or so, despite conceding Kader’s goal, and they were rewarded for their persistence with two minutes left after Samuel Taria broke into the penalty-area and gently rolled the ball past East Turkistan goalkeeper Shemshi and into the bottom corner.
It was a brave performance from West Papua, but there was a gulf in class between the two teams, which was perhaps unsurprising as a number of the team do not play football on a regular basis. There is much work to be done, but the will and enthusiasm is there, and improvement will surely come in the next few years. East Turkistan greatly impressed West Papua’s representative Simon Sapopier, who, in spite of the result, hailed the game as a fantastic experience for his side and a springboard for future development and improvement.
On the other hand, it was the perfect introduction to international football for the East Turkistan side, who had been preparing for this day since the ETFA’s inception earlier this year; two of the squad play professionally, whilst the rest of the team play football on a regular basis, and the difference showed. Acting manager Elshat Eslam was delighted with his team’s performance, saying that his team, substitutes included, came together and played as a unit, and played really well. Few who watched the game on Sarurday would disagree.
EAST TURKISTAN: 22 Ablet SHEMSHI, 5 Ilyas ABITOV, 6 Khalid YUSUPOV, 7 Ilham SELEYEV, 8 Alisher TASHMETOV, 9 Ripkat BILAL, 10 Ihtiyar YUSUPOV, 11 Abdushukur ABDURYIN, 14 Elzat KADER, 19 Salaydin TURSUN, 20 Anwar ISMAILOV
WEST PAPUA: 1 Romano KANDHAI, 2 Stephanus SAPIOPOR, 3 Sebastian BAME, 4 Waikuma PENTURY, 7 Bep GEIST, 8 Miguel Laatveld, 9 Colin SCINTJE, 10 Samuel TARIA, 11 Kila TUILARLA, 12 Rudy GELL DE LA CRUZ, 23 Ahmad ALITAKOM
SUBSTITUTES: 17 Gatho LIONEL, 21 Jason AKOUDAD