(Report for Mercopress by Patrick Watts)
DESPITE a tiring 32 hours flight and encountering extremely hot and humid conditions the Falklands football team, playing in their 5th International Island Games competition, took home a bronze medal after defeating the small Norwegian Island of Froya by a 6-0 score line.
The two teams met in an earlier group game when the Falklands edged a narrow 2-1 victory, winning the 'Small Islands Cup' which is contested by member Islands whose populations are 10,000 or less. Captain Wayne Clement and Chilean-born Rafa Sotomayor scored the goals. The Falklands are the holders of the Cup, having defeated the Island of Alderney (pop. 1,800) by 3-0 at the previous Games on the Isle of Wight in 2011.
However the key game was to come 4 days later as the two islands met again, with this time the bronze medal at stake. Because of costs the Norwegian Island, which has a population of 6,000, took just 14 players and an injury to their best player Aqqalu Johan Lyberth, who plays in the Norwegian 2nd division, was a severe blow, as he was forced to miss the play-off game.
The Falklands took an early lead when defender Martyn Clarke, who many years ago had trials with Boca Juniors in Argentina, rose high to head home a free kick expertly delivered by Chilean Andreas Balladeros. The Chilean himself added a second in the 18th minute when he coolly rounded the goal-keeper Erik van Fredagsvik and placed the ball into the net.
The game took a dramatic and decisive turn in the 70th and 72nd minutes when Zaza 'George' Elbakidze, a Georgian who has settled and married in the Falklands, scored two excellent goals, which basically ensured the bronze medal for the Falklands. Substitute Douglas Clark, who had also played badminton for the Falklands during the week-long Games, smashed home a 5th and it was left to the youngest member of the squad, 16 year old Scott Thain, to complete the triumph for the Falklands. Coming on as a late substitute he was felled in the penalty area, and rose to take the spot-kick which rebounded back to him off the legs of the Froya goalkeeper. This time Scott made no mistake with his ferocious kick.
The many Falklands supporters who made the long journey to Bermuda joined in the celebrations as the team received their bronze medals from the President of the Bermuda Football Association Mr. Larry Mussenden, who is also a member of the FIFA Ethics Committee.
A delighted Team Manager Ian Betts said: 'We left home hoping to win the bronze medal as we knew that the gold was out of our reach. We have achieved our aim. For a small Island with a population of under 3,000, we have done remarkably well and I am proud of my players'.
The Falklands Governor Mr. Nigel Haywood is expected to host a reception for the bronze medal winners and other Falklands competitors upon their return to the Islands.
The host island Bermuda, who fielded no less than 9 fully fledged International players in their side, defeated Greenland 1-0 with a disputed 88th minute penalty, to win the gold medal.
The 15th International NatWest Island Games were hosted by the Island of Bermuda which is a British Overseas Territory situated in the North Atlantic, some 600 miles from the United States mainland, and the state of North Carolina. Despite being just 22 miles long and 1.5 miles wide the Island has a population of 64,000 people, of which 54% are black and 31% are European.
15 sports were contested during the 6 days of competition which attracted competitors from 22 of the 24 member islands. The Isle of Man came out on top with 36 gold medals followed by the host Island Bermuda with 27 and Jersey with 23.
The next NatWest Island Games will be held on the Channel Island of Jersey in 2015.
Report by Patrick J. Watts.Vice-President,Falkland Islands Overseas Games Association.