Samoans triumph in old fashioned footy
3pm, Mack Oval, Warrnambool, country Victoria. That was the unlikely setting for a brutal encounter between the islanders from Pacific Samoa and the Elks from European Sweden. And yet there was something very old style Australian football about this match.
The skills on display varied from exciting to rudimentary, but one thing was guaranteed all day - a very physical contest. The Samoans ran head first into every clash with frightening vigour, but perhaps surprisingly, the Swedes showed true courage under fire and gave almost as good as they got.
But alas after a slow start they couldn't never quite peg back the margin and will have to console themselves with the knowledge that they "stood up" in a fiercely contested match worthy of a bigger crowd.
Unfortunately being a day game there was probably less than 30 spectators on hand to witness the heroics. The big crowd would not be seen until the later games down at Reid Oval when people flooded in after school and work.
The first quarter saw the Elks get away to a 7 point lead with the strong wind, probably not enough. The Samoans responded with 4 goals 4 behinds to nil with their use of the wind, a particularly good effort considering perhaps their best player and leader in outstanding centre half back Fia Too-too has returned home to Samoa for his sister's 21st birthday - not something that did the coaching staff any favours. This left players like the unsung Sauluitoga Faaee to show the way, and that they did.
The game had many hard contests and the niggle threatened to spill over as the players left the field for the half-time break, Samoa up by 20 points.
Samoan assistant coach Michael Roberts urged his players with the old line "the third quarter is the premiership quarter" and when asked boldly declared that he would not flood the Elks' forward line to defend the lead, instead preferring to attack. That lasted about two minutes until the Swedes scored a quick goal. The flood was not on though, with just one or two men dropping back. He later admitted the closeness of the contest made him feel physically ill - these people put their heart and soul into development in their countries and every win means the world to them at the International Cup.
The bitterly cold conditions did nothing to quell tempers as spot fires began to break out. A big hit on Micke Stabo had the Swedish bench erupting. Such things always depend on what angle you viewed it, but to be honest this one seemed fair but hard footy. Stabo was approaching the ball and should have reasonably expected contact. The Samoan lined him up from 30m away and ran in a straight line and (from this witness' view 20m away and that of another close by) hip and shouldered the Swede in the side and shoulder, within the vicinity of the football. It's possible that it could have deflected into his head, but either way it was a nasty blow that caused his head to whiplash and he sank the ground. Truthfully, the strike came from side on and should have been seen coming - a standard football bracing position would have seen the unfortunate player ride the bump and be shaken but not injured. It was a standard charge still seen regularly certainly in amateur football where this author hails from (Adelaide), but brutal none the less. Stabo lay on the ground for several minutes and on-lookers feared for his health, but bravely he slowly managed to regain his feet and stagger to the bench. He even joined the Elk's three quarter time huddle, and regardless of whether the bump was fair, it was an inspiring effort from Stabo to soldier on.
Other than numerous physical incidents, a holding the man decision gifted the Kangaroos a vital goal into the wind while Sweden gave themselves hope with three goals to trail by just 8 points at the last change, but unlikely to overcome a strong wind in their faces in the final quarter.
As expected the margin was just too much and despite some promising play the Swedes couldn't bother the scorers, losing by 24 points. Roger Nillson impressed with his run and what looked like very natural carry of the ball, as did Robin Nillson, except for some inaccurate disposal by foot.
Even as the final siren sounded it appeared a serious fight would break out, but calmer heads prevailed and minutes later the teams were posing together for photos.
But a word on the umpiring. Firstly I'm loathe to say anything as the young men in charge tried their best and were in a very difficult situation. However it should not go unreported that this game was teetering on the edge of disaster many times. Both sides were getting frustrated and very willing. Although the standard of play may not be all that high, these men are playing for their countries and their intensity at the ball and the man was very high. The very young men in charge needed guidance to take control of the match, hand out some frees and send off anyone over-cooked. To have such inexperienced people in charge almost allowed this game to turn into a bloodbath in which someone could have been very seriously injured. Hopefully no lasting damage was done but the AFL should note that helpful young volunteers should not be thrust into such a situation, certainly not without more senior leadership on hand.
After the match Sweden's team manager Philip Porublev gave credit to the Samoans for the hard match and said it was played in good spirit. When asked he admitted numbers were now low - having started with a squad of 28 they had many injuries and several down with bad flu, with two more players lost in this match.
All in all a tough, old style brutal game of footy worthy of a big crowd and both sides can be proud of their achievements - the Swedes stand up under tougher conditions than they were be used to and the Samoans for winning without their leader.
Goal Kickers: S. Sale 2, S. Faaee, S. Faalelei, S. Lafoga, J. Matualoto, E. Tinetali
Best Players: L. Toleafoa, S. Faaee, S. Faauliuli, E. Masaga, S. Lafoga, J. Matualoto
Goal Kickers: C. Fager 2, J. Tjernlund 2
Best Players: P. Karlsson, M. Stabo, Roger Nilsson, L. Hagberg, J. Ljunggren, E. Aberg
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