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One last dance, many a missed chance, a rather unhappy circumstance

11 September 2021. 9/11. A date that will live in infamy for generations of FCI4. For this was the last dance of our prodigal son and recently appointed talisman, Alex Redmond.

No one embodies the spirit of the team more singly in their being than Redmond. His eyes maybe topaz blue, but his blood runs emerald green. And after encrusting himself in the core of the midfield and establishing himself as the soul of the team over the last two seasons, this year was to be his season. It was written in the stars – ‘Ireland’s favourite child leads his country to a famous promotion from the 4th division of the amateur Brussels League of Saturday Afternoon Ball Sports’. Alright…the title may need some work.

But alas, his time to shine has faded even before the fans could order the ‘Captain. Leader. Legend.’ Banner to be draped across the hallowed Nossegem arena – for the Irish diplomatic service came knocking…and that is too good an opportunity for any emerald-blooded man to turn down.

It was in this wistful context that the 15-man squad arrived at Nossegem on Saturday, 11 September 2021. Despite the rockin’ tunes in the changin’ room, the mood was one of solace. For we knew, just like MJ’s teammates for the Chicago Bulls in `93, that this dance would be Redmond’s last.

Gulping back the tears, an uncharacteristically emotional Santi barked out the team sheet in drill-sergeant fashion: ‘Matteo, Roberto, Santi, Roman, Fran at the back; Alex (cue whooping and cheering from FCI’s own class clown, Mario) and Tom in the middle; Draga, Fabian, Nick behind Costi up front’. Off went the troops to do battle, after an unusually moderated and well-balanced warm-up routine, in the ongoing absence of our wannabe drill sergeant, Benoit ‘The Butcher(ed)’.

After exchanges of pre-match niceties with the day’s adversary and a few final words of inspiration (the word of this day was ‘intensity’) from our outgoing captain, the peep of the referee’s whistle sounded to open the hostilities. Kicking downhill, FC Irlande immediately asserted themselves on proceedings and took a firm stranglehold of the game, setting up shop in the opposition’s territory.

It took only minutes for FCI’s first shot across the boughs of the opposition, with Dragastan, ever a livewire from the left, finding himself in front of goal no more than 5 metres out after a knockdown from his uncle Costi. Amid pleas of offside from the hapless defenders, Draga applied the finish – but the goalkeeper stuck out his leg to make the first of what would be a string of saves in his personal game of cat-and-mouse with Draga on this fated afternoon.

It didn’t take long for FCI to test the keeper again – with Fabian, who was dominant in the #10 role all day, getting in down the right and stinging the keeper’s palms with a curling effort from the right of the box.

Then, finally, the moment arose that would surely cement Alex’s place in the hall of fame. A ball over the top from left to right put Draga in behind the now-terrorised defenders (well, it was 9/11 after all). As he ran through on goal for a one-on-one chance that would surely bring the much-anticipated first goal of the match, he was felled by a flailing leg. Penalty.

Up stepped our talisman, leading from the front. He picked up the ball and placed it purposefully on the spot. He watched on unflinchingly as the goalkeeper’s remonstrations with the referee earned him a yellow. Then, as the whistle peeped, he stared the keeper down imperviously with those chilling, ice-blue eyes. One-step, two-step, three-step…and strike…

…But no. The script was written, but the Breu Utd goalkeeper hadn’t read it. He dived to his left and saved Alex’s side-footed effort with his knee, with the spin sending the ball wide of the opposite post. An anguish-stricken Alex shot a timid glance towards the direction of his on-looking father…who had immortalised the incident on camera. Was it to be ‘one of those days’ for FCI?

Unperturbed (excepting, perhaps, Alex himself), Irlande continued the onslaught in their pursuit of the lead their play deserved. And then, finally, after countless efforts were knocked back by the keeper, who would surely be in with a shout of winning his own team’s Man of the Match vote with this display, the goal came. Draga again skipped away from one, two, three men on the left of the box, before reaching the byline and squaring the ball across, where Costi was arriving to apply the simplest of finishes. 1-0!

With the heavens opening on the pitch, the chances continued to rain down for Irlande – with Draga and Costi frustrated time and again by the in-form goalie, who seemed to be taunting the strikers by using only his feet to save their efforts. Then, after some lovely combination play that saw the ball out to Roberto on the right, a sumptuous cross to the middle found this author free in the box – but the looping header was (mis)guided wide of the far post. With half time approaching, it felt like a travesty that FCI would go in with only one goal advantage to show for their play. If that.

In a rare counter from Breu, a ball came to their left-winger, who it turned out would probably pip their keeper to their Man of the Match award. Picking up the ball, he drove past Roberto and shimmied past Santi, before firing a rasping curler beyond Matteo into the far post – a finish reminiscent of Thierry Henry. 1-1 was how the score would stand at half time. But how?

No time for interrogations, the captains encouraged the puzzled troops – this was our game if we just carry on. And barely minutes into the second half, Draga was in behind down the right again, and this time he made no mistake, striking the ball with enough venom that finally he saw the net bulge. 2-1, and screams of select Romanian vocabulary could be heard ringing out across the Arena. Could Irlande kick on now and bag the 3 points?

Not to be. Breu again turned to their own pacey, skillful left winger, who cut in off his flank and left defenders trailing in his wake, before unleashing a powerful shot from the edge of the box into the near post that wrong-footed Matteo. Great finish. 2-2.

Irlande continued to hunt for what they felt was theirs, and the opposition also seemed to acknowledge this, with the keeper only too happy to waste time at any opportunity, while their left back took a liking to holding the ball up at his own corner flag. Sensing the moment to send in the cavalry, délégué Martin, sporting this season’s green t-shirt (‘fuchsia is out according to Vogue’ he was later recorded as explaining), rang the changes, bringing on Michal for his FCI debut, along with Mario, Kevin and Roman in quick succession. Alas, none of the fresh blood could unpick the defence.

Then, with less than 5 minutes to go, disaster struck. That man again, on the right-hand side of the FCI defence got past his man… went to the byline… squared a ball across goal…and there was a striker, to apply the finish. 2-3. How can this be happening?!

The game wasn’t quite done there, though, with Draga now taking on all-comers with the ball, seemingly on a personal, one-man mission to avenge his nemesis in the opposition’s goal. Combining well with Michal and Mario, Draga found himself in the box, all-but ready to pull the trigger and bring FCI back to parity. But then a desperate lunge by a defender sent him flying – the referee pointed to the spot without hesitation, and produced a red card for the defender. Unbelievable scenes. With the pressure on, FCI needed a hero with balls of steel to step up and rescue a point. And a hero duly presented himself. Marching to the penalty spot, he took the ball while all others looked around for a savior, and without hesitation nor a second thought, he chose his spot, and rolled it with precision into the side netting. Two keepers wouldn’t have kept that one out. 3-3. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. And that man was Fabian, who was deservedly named FCI Man of the Match.

And that is how it finished. A profligate display that felt like 2 points dropped, but ultimately could have been a lot worse. Not the goodbye display we would have wished for our dearly loved captain Redmond. And that missed penalty will surely haunt his dreams for at least a couple of nights. All the best Alex. You will be sorely missed, even if not for set piece duties.

Score : 3-3

Goals : Costi ; Draga ; Fabian

Assists : Draga ; Costi

MotM : Fabian

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