|Action from the first half|
My alarm went off at 0530. I repeat ..0530...on a Sunday. I still managed to wake up brightly and full of energy for a long distance away game. I must be mad.
Fast forward several hours and we pulled up outside the i-Mobile Stadium at around 1600. The first sight to greet us was a horde of young fans all standing in a square formation, each and every one of them with their hands by their sides and decked out in the dark blue Buriram PEA home shirt. I've never seen anything like it at a football game but all of us seem to experience something new at Buriram PEA.
Word got to me that Rene's daughter wants to see me. Luckily she doesn't want to box me but talk about my blog. I didn't get to see her this time but I hope to next time.
There were more surprises. I saw several pairs of farang Buriram fans around the stadium and not one, not two but three of the pairs recognise me and make a point of registering their upset at my recent "North Korea" comment. I can only guess it was quoted on another forum somewhere. Two of the three pairs were very friendly and reasonable and it was a pleasure to chat with them.
So 'sorry' to those gentlemen, in my defence I didn't say Buriram was North Korea, I only said hero worship of a politician seemed to have a "North Korean feel". Also, my comments section - or my blog if anyone requests it - is always open for anyone to tell me I'm wrong and say why.
Now this match report is going to be vague and brief for two reasons. Firstly, as soon as we took up position the heavens opened above our uncovered stand and we got utterly drenched. Match programme and tickets were destroyed. I spent the rest of the game fighting off pneumonia which was distracting. Secondly, as documented elsewhere, the away stand is far away from the pitch behind a covered-over running track, so the far end of the pitch is too far away to properly see what is happening. Home fans told me the new stadium construction is well under way and will hold about thirty thousand so hopefully we won't have this problem next year.
We started with Kawin (GK), Piyachart (LB), Jetsada (CB, capt), Panupong (CB), Kaewprom (RB), Abdoul (DM), Datsakorn (MD), Siaka (MD), Kone (AM/ST), Christian (LW/FW), Teerasil (ST). It's probably our strongest team, though I still wish Rungsiyo could get more games.
The pitch had already been reported as heavy and the pre-match downpour had exacerbated the soggy surface. The near left side of the pitch had large puddles across it and Kawin's goalmouth was basically a pond. The game started awkwardly, water flew up as the players ran or the ball moved and sliding tackles rendered players drenched and covered in mud. OK so it's football and not ballet, but in such conditions the ball moves very awkwardly and switching wings - a big part of our game - is also tricky. In short, we couldn't get into our game and I had a bad feeling from very early on. BPEA on the other hand play a more central game that adapted better to the waterlogged surface and started offensively, winning more of the possession and forcing some good saves from Asia's best goalie.
There is little else to report from this half. A few strange decisions from the ref seemed to go BPEA's way but they were the better side anyway. We went in at half time goalless.
By the second half at least some of the water had drained off and we started to play more like our usual selves. Yet still it was BPEA who scored early on. It was at the wrong end so I saw nothing, to be honest. Muangthong responded positively and started to create more and more openings, but then our problems really began.
The first stunning decision occurred when Christian found himself on the half way line with tons of space to run into and plenty of support. Suddenly the ref blew and pointed to the home goalie who had suddenly collapsed in his area. Sure enough, play stopped, Mister goalie recovered moments later.
More was to come. One home player was booked for a two footed challenge but otherwise, we got nothing. Every 50/50 or 60/40 our way decision went to the home side. Christian was tripped in the area...nothing. Kone beat two players then was clipped (admittedly lightly) in the box....nothing. Meanwhile, the home goalie went down for the second time and play was stopped.
We kept up the pressure with some good crosses and wide play that the home team coped with well. Siaka went up for a long ball with his marker pulling his shirt hard enough to bring them both down....free kick to Buriram. Chistian was tackled on the right wing by the home left back....throw in Buriram. It went on and on.
Most difficult to stomach was the leisurely stroll that the ball boy took to retrieve the ball every time it went out of play. Each time he would make a point of walking slowly back to the goalie and handing him the ball, it was never thrown or kicked back. This alone must have taken over a minute off the clock, possibly a lot more. Officials said absolutely nothing, even when players complained.
The last effort of the game was a deep cross that Dagno so nearly got to but it went over and out. Away players quickly regrouped but wait.....the home goalie is dying again! Dagno punches the turf in anger and the ref stops play for at least a minute. He starts again, the goalie (fine once again) takes his kick....about ten seconds are played....final whistle. So where the hell was the one minute of injury time from the goalie's third injury that the ref is obliged to add, let alone all the other injury time? Several MTU players went over to the ref - probably to ask the same question - and a particularly vexed Christian had to be pulled away by a team mate. I don't condone these actions but if it had been me, I probably would have done the same. We're all human and we all have limits.
I know I'm inviting criticism from two fronts here so let me get my defence in first: my indignation at the ref takes nothing away from Buriram's win. They were by far the better side in the first half and defended solidly for most of the second. Buriram deserved this win and congratulations to them. My one and only criticism of the home team was the disgraceful antics of the goalkeeper.
Next, if anyone is tempted to say we got a taste of our own medicine, please don't. We may get six from ten fifty-fifty decisions at home, we may have received one lucky penalty against a team that didn't come to play football but to cheat their way to a draw, but we have never and will never get a ref as one sided as this at the Thunderdome. It was the second worst display of officiating I've ever seen. Our ball boys are neutral, too.
Now to finish with some positives: home fans were fantastic. Lots of happy kids, pretty women and friendly folk all around. The much-maligned security was not really an issue. Umbrellas and water bottles were bizarrely confiscated despite the downpour but bags were allowed in and although the amount of security seemed greatly excessive, they were friendly - they didn't even check our tickets - and often cracked smiles at our antics. Finally, our failure to defeat or even score against Buriram gives us something to aim for either in the cups or next season. We'll certainly be out to even the score.
So out of the stadium we went at about 2000 still soaking wet, home at 0400 still soaking wet, then off to work at 0530. Oh yeh, it was my birthday today, too. Not seventeen anymore yet I feel like I'm doing OK. Muangthong are still doing fine, too.
Man of the match:
New boy is, naturally, still settling in to the country and the team but his first half performance today (he didn't feature in the second) seemed to show he relishes difficult conditions. His long skinny legs not only made some crucial tackles but also distributed the ball neatly. Moussa who?