Image credit: Brad Merrett
Abkhazia beat Chameria on penalties in an often bad-tempered third-place playoff in Stepanakert, during which the beautiful game was not much in evidence.
Chameria, who often rely on the talents of the enormous striker Marko van Basten Çema, had much of their passing game nullified by the strong Abkhazian midfield; despite a few penetrating runs, Chameria’s nifty number 10, Gjoka, was prevented from slicing balls over through to Çema.
Abkhazia saw most of the early action, forcing the Chameria keeper into lightning-fast saves on several occasions – but proving vulnerable on the break to the quick Chamerian attackers.
After around 20 minutes, Çema – a fast, defence-splitting presence – lofted a near ball over to Gjeci, who was marginally too slow to reach it, almost completing a perfect counter.
And this momentum sapped Abkhazia’s discipline – a slew of sloppy, foul-tempered tackles earned them two yellow cards within two minutes. Indeed, the half ended with the two teams openly fighting – adding more names to the referee’s book.
Abkhazia brought on Maskaev at half time to bolster their attacking threat. He made an instant impact, adding a fresh dynamism to the pitch, and claiming one of the game’s best chances when he cut inside and fired straight at the keeper.
But the conflict resumed after an hour passed. A high kick to the back of an Abkhazian player saw Zaimi sent off, while Baholli – himself a substitute – was replaced via a green card.
Down to 10 men and their game plan in tatters, Chameria became increasingly reckless, but paradoxically gained a new vibrancy through the fast-paced winger Hasa, who repeatedly combined well with Marko van Basten Çema and Gjoka.
Their counterattacking skill – which nearly resulted in a goal after a perfect cross by Hasa to Çema was tipped over by the keeper – was not enough, and the more numerous Abkhazians took control of the game.
With penalties looming, both teams looked increasingly sloppy, barely keeping hold of possession; Abkhazia were unable to make the most of their advantage.
So third-place would be decided by penalties. Both teams were level until Çema missed his attempt, allowing captain Khugaev the platform to score slot his past the keeper, and secure the bronze medal for Abkhazia.