Barawa vs Tamil Eelam: match one of the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup

Barawa vs Tamil Eelam: match one of the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup

Two years ago, Barawa’s first competitive game ended in misery. Tamil Eelam were just too good at Gander Green Lane, romping to a 4-0 victory in the World Unity Cup.

On Thursday evening, those painful memories were expunged. Two penalties from Shaun Lucian, as well as strikes from Solomon Sambou and Gianni Crichlow, secured a dominant victory against a timid Tamil side.

The Barawans made their intent clear from the off, with goalkeeper Umaesh Sundaralingam forced into several early saves. A decent start would soon descend into a nightmare for the Tamil ‘keeper, who registered a performance that would have Loris Karius watching through buttered fingers.

The warning signs arrived in the opening five minutes. Intent on building from the back, Ragesh Nambiar’s men struggled with their opponents’ eager pressing, with Sundaralingam, in particular, sending several passes astray from his six-yard box. With 17 minutes gone, the inevitable happened. His hashed clearance was played straight into the path of the impressive Solomon Sambou. Barawa’s number 8 wasted no time in smashing a half-volley into the open net from all of 30 yards.

Tamil heads began to drop. The excellent Gianni Crichlow was a constant menace on the right-hand side, continually set free by the probing brilliance of Crawley star Aryan Tajbaksh in the middle of the park.

The Sri Lankans looked to Gvinthan Navaneethakrisnan for inspiration. The top-knotted number 10, described in some quarters as the Tamil Arnautović, sped away from several Barawan challenges in the 19th minute. The defence, marshalled excellently by Zakaria Bachi, shut him down before he could get a shot away.

Ten minutes later, ‘GV’ got his chance. Released by a rasping ball from midfield, he wedged a sumptuous lob over the onrushing Calvin King, only for the ball to cannon achingly off the crossbar.  It would prove to be a costly miss.

Lucian, who plays his club football with St Alban’s City in the National League South, was a constant menace to a shell-shocked Tamil backline. After a brilliant Cruyff turn on the left wing, he avoided one challenge before being hauled down by another inside the penalty area. Mark Clattenburg pointed straight to the spot, with Lucian dispatching the resulting spot-kick into the bottom right corner.

With the first half drawing to a close, Nambiar’s men tried to inject more intensity into their attacks. The enthusiasm was nearly undone, however, when Crichlow was again set free on the right-hand side. Only a brilliant touch from Sundaralingam prevented the result from becoming a formality.

The Tamils could only hold out for so long. With 43 minutes gone, Tajbaksh freed Crichlow once again. Sundaralingam, having already committed one howler, allowed the Barawan’s cross to sail high above him and into the roof of the net. Whether it was a cross or a shot didn’t’ matter – Abdikarim Farah’s side were on course for the most comfortable of victories.

The half-time whistle brought some much-needed respite for Tamil Eelam. At first, Nambiar’s team talk seemed to imbue the side with some vigour, with captain Panushanth Kulenthiram urging his teammates incessantly from midfield.

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Given their dominance in the first forty-five, Barawa were complacent in the opening minutes of the second. Yet another Crichlow chance awoke them from their slumber, however, with the 20-year-old scuffing wide after being released from midfield.

The Tamils threatened briefly, with two free-kicks floating dangerously into King’s box. Simon Noel, Barawa’s commanding centre-forward, had proven surprisingly quiet despite the dominance of Lucian and Crichlow either side of him. On 54 minutes, he was finally replaced by Shaquille Ismail.

The substitute almost scored five minutes later, a sumptuous pass from Crichlow putting him one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The resulting shot might have gone wide but Barawa were comfortably on top heading into the hour mark.

After his early brilliance in the first half, Navaneethakrisnan had struggled to influence proceedings. On 61 minutes, he reminded everyone of his talent, snaking past two Barawan defenders before hanging a dangerous cross into the six-yard box. He was left to hang his head, however, when the ball evaded all of his chasing teammates.

Perhaps too much was expected of a side that had lost 4-1 to the South Korean under-23s in the build-up to the tournament. Barawa, however, had been in similar form, drawing 3-3 against a Carlton Cole XI in their previous game.

Minutes later, Navaneethakrisnan bore down on King’s goal once more, only to aim a shot directly at the grateful ‘keeper. Finally, the Tamils were offering opposition. With 65 minutes gone, Omar Soufi needed every sinew to stop Janojan Pathmanathan’s header on the goalline. With the floodlights blaring foggily into life against the rich navy sky, the crowd smelled an upset.

Tajbaksh, whose quality had made itself evident throughout, nearly nixed the comeback before it stared. Crichlow, who could have scored five at least, was once again presented with a decent chance courtesy of his teammates’ vision. Farah, unable to watch another miss from his flying right winger, finally hooked him off for Mohamed Arale on 68 minutes after the shot went wide.

Sambou, whose hard work and neat tackling had prevented the opponents from gaining a foothold all game, played a delicious pass to the impressive Arale three minutes later. The substitute found Lucian with a crisp reverse, who was shut down at the last opportunity by a desperate lunge.

Arale’s speed and trickery proved even more problematic for Nambiar’s side. When the defence was breached once more, the teenager bore down on Sundaralingam’s goal only to be bowled over in the box. Lucian, who had faded almost completely by this stage after his earlier heroics, stepped up to score another comfortable penalty.

The closing minutes were played out at a canter, with Arale, in particular, looking threatening every time the Sri Lankans ceded possession. As Clattenburg blew the final whistle, the healthy crowd of Tamil fans refused to lower their flags in the stands. Their team might have been outclassed and outplayed in Bromley, but they still have a chance to progress if they can muster a result against Cascadia next time out.

For Barawa, this fixture was a real statement of intent. Punjab and Padania might be the hot favorites but both will have to be at their best against a side that was utterly dominant on a fine summer’s evening at Hayes Lane.

By Christopher Weir @chrisw45

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