Image: David Kagramanyan
South Ossetia progressed to the CONIFA Sportsbet.io European Football Cup final after a nail-biting 6-5 penalty shoot-out win over Chameria. Sunday’s game will be their first ever final in a CONIFA tournament.
Askeran City Stadium played host to an intriguing semi-final between two teams who most would not have tipped to progress beyond the group stages. South Ossetia and Chameria came into the tournament as unknown quantities, but have entertained crowds in Artsakh with some scintillating football.
The first half was not pretty, with plenty of niggly fouls breaking up the play and preventing either side from getting into any real passing rhythm. There were plenty of speculative shots from distance, but nothing that caused the goalkeepers too much concern.
One of Chameria’s star men this tournament, striker Marko van Basten Cema, was convinced he had won a penalty, but was ruled to have been in an offside position by the referee’s assistant. His opposite number, South Ossetian forward Ibragim Bazaev, whistled a shot just over the crossbar.
A flurry of late first-half chances gave both sides cause for optimism, including a great run and shot from South Ossetian star man Batradz Gurtsiev, and a rapid Chameria counter-attack which Cema couldn’t capitalise on.
The teams reverted to the first-half malaise after the break. Bazaev’s decision to shoot from a free kick awarded in the centre circle was symbolic of a lack of creativity, which could be perhaps be forgiven after their gruelling group campaigns this week. The ever-present striker almost managed to divert home a huge punt downfield by his keeper Muharbeg Buraev.
Cema’s strike partner Samet Gjoka shot just wide after a neat turn, whilst Dzhambolat Hastayev shot just over for South Ossetia in stoppage time, but the match went to penalties, which had seemed inevitable.
The penalty shoot-out was one of the highest quality, with 11 of the 14 kicks giving the keeper no chance whatsoever. A ‘panenka’ from Cema when he had to score to keep Chameria in it was audacious in the extreme. His teammate Boci Xhorxhian had his attempt saved by Buraev however, who dived low to his right, to spark wild celebrations for the South Ossetians.