The FFA Futsal Nationals concluded Friday 14 January and one of the good news stories of the tournament is the 15 Boys NSW Lightning side and their heroic run to the final.
The story starts with the squad being selected and almost not being able to go because of numerous players dropping out of the squad. In the end it was only because 2 players agreed to join the squad at the last minute that the 6 Outfielders and 2 Keepers made the trip to Canberra. Surely such a small squad couldn’t play 8 games in 4 days and make the final? Well, with an ounce of luck, a ton of guts, undoubted ability and a determined attitude you can achieve anything. Coach Fernando Ortega never had any doubts. He was happy with his squad and the boys became mates for life very quickly.
Here’s the story of how they made the final.
First up – Northern NSW Hawks. And you couldn’t have hoped for a better start to the tournament. While the boys were still playing more as individuals they had a very comfortable 11-1 win with Jesse Volarich proving to be the surprise packet scoring 4 goals. The boys were rarely troubled in defence and the score allowed us to rotate players to conserve the energy we would need later in the week.
The next match was going to be a lot tougher. Up against Victoria – a team none of the boys had ever beaten in this age group – their fate was in their hands. And didn’t the boys play well. They dominated the game and the score of 5-4 was more of a result of whistle happy officials – which saw Victoria awarded four 11 metre penalties – than a true indication of how well the boys played. Luckily Victoria only converted two of the penalties. The officials would play a bigger role later in the tournament. So far – so good.
Our 3rd game later that night against South Australia was a cracker. We again incurred the wrath of the officials and had to pull 2 of our starters to avoid further foul and card trouble. This saw us fall behind 1-5 but after giving key players a lengthy rest we were able to make changes that saw the momentum swing back to us. The boys scored 3 goals in the last 6 minutes and hit the post with the last kick of the game. The positive form the game was that the boys just wouldn’t give up. Still, a 4-5 loss when we had counted on getting a result from this game was a blow.
The next morning we faced Western NSW. To be fair we were out enthused by these talented boys. Their ‘keeper was injured and they had no reserves but they pressed and chased all game and with their fill in ‘keeper having a blinder they deserved their 7-4 win. But we did learn a valuable lesson from them – it’s not how many players you’ve got, it’s how committed you are that counts.
This left us with an uphill battle to make the semis. Our next opponent was the undefeated Queensland squad but the morning’s loss saw the boys renew their focus. After falling behind to an early goal the boys dominated the game and led 5-1 at one stage. A late goal from the Player’s Player of the Tournament Nico Ortega rounded out a convincing 6-3 win.
Another day and another challenge. First up a very strong NSW Thunder side. And what a game this was. Easily the match of the tournament until that point. The boys fell behind 3 times but leading the fight back was Daniel Araujo who seemed to be on a mission to prove he was a worthy candidate for Tournament MVP. With just 90 seconds remaining goal sneak Daniel Graham leveled the scores at 3-3. But the drama wasn’t over. Thunder stormed down the court and hit a last second shot that was surely going in at the far post until Chris Howell – selected by the parent’s as their Player of the Tournament – somehow got a hand to it to secure 2 priceless points.
This left us in a precarious position. Our final game was to be against the undefeated ACT side. A win or draw would see us through to the semis. A loss would mean other results would have to go our way. This turned out to be another epic battle. Having conceded 2 very soft goals the boys had battled back yet again and the scores were locked at 2-2 with 2 minutes remaining. And then we were away on a 3 on 1 fast break that would surely result in a winner but unfortunately we lost the ball, the tables were turned and ACT didn’t miss their chance and hit the winner on the counter. A devastating 2-3 loss which resulted in confusion. Had we made the semis or not?
The round robin ended with Lightning, Queensland and Western NSW all finishing on 11 points. But who was in? Western NSW beat Lightning but Queensland beat Western NSW and Lightning beat Queensland. Fortunately we had the superior goal difference and we were through to meet ACT again in a few hours time. Did the boys have anything left in the tank?
The ACT boys appeared very confident, as they should have been. Our boys had a look of grim determination which should have been a warning that the result was not a foregone conclusion. After a cagey start we hit the lead and started to control the game. Rodney Lewin got the start for this match and his first 15 minutes was all energy and hustle. He couldn’t have done any more for his team and was a big reason we able to hold ACT to 2-2 at half-time. Quietly confident the boys started the 2nd half well and eventually Daniel Graham snuck in to score our 3rd goal to take the lead. A berth in the final was definitely there for the taking but we were struck a devastating blow with just 4 minutes to play when Daniel Araujo – who finished with 16 goals for the tournament – was given his 3rd yellow card of the tournament by an overzealous official. Daniel knew he would be out of the final but took it in his stride and proceeded to score the clinching 4th goal only a minute later. The bad news didn’t stop there with Jesse Volarich sustaining a tournament ending injury with 2 minutes to go – not the ending he deserved as he had had a brilliant tournament to this point. Two incredible saves in the dying seconds by Chris Howell meant the final score stayed at 4-2 to Lightning and we were into the final!
The boys had done it – made the final against the odds. But could they field a team? We had 1 player suspended and 1 unable to play because of injury leaving us with 4 outfield players – one of whom (Alex Tsagaroulis) normally played ‘keeper for his club. Chris Howell volunteered to sit as an outfield sub so he could rest our field players which gave Yossi Segal the chance to start as ‘keeper.
It would be great to report that the fairytale came true but unfortunately more bad luck was to come our way. After holding Thunder to 1-1 after 12 minutes their freshness started to tell and we fell behind 1-4. Chris then came on as sub for Alex, who put everything he had into the game, but sustained a fractured big toe in his very first challenge. We were now down to just 4 outfield players. The final score of 2-6 was quite respectable. Daniel Graham scored both goals, Yossi played exceptionally well, – especially considering his lack of game time until that point – Rodney Lewin never stopped working and Nico Ortega was magnificent once again. A special mention must go to Alex who played all but 2 minutes of the final and more than held his own on the court. Without Alex we couldn’t have gone to the tournament. His enthusiasm and team spirit was the perfect example of what this team was about.
So, a team that nearly didn’t make the tournament made the final and, with better luck, could have taken home the cup. How did they do it? What these boys achieved proves that with a player’s first coaching approach, a team committed to play good futsal and work hard for each other, a positive, never say day attitude and tremendous support from family and friends anything is possible.
Well done boys. You beat the odds.