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Thursday, May 22, 2014


A beautifully clear evening in Rome, together with a view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, provided the perfect backdrop to an international match involving teams representing Europe's two smallest independent countries, the Vatican City and Monaco, at the Campo Cardinal F. Spellman on 10 May 2014.

It was the Vatican side's first international match since they lost 2:1 to the Monégasques in June 2013; for the visitors, it was a chance to put a recent - horrendous - 10:0 defeat away to Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man) well and truly to bed. Monaco came with a slightly weakened squad, as a number of players selected for the trip to Rome had to cry off due to work issues.

Considering the fact that the match had drawn a reasonable amount of media interest, it had drawn but a meagre crowd of spectators, almost outnumbered by journalists and dignitaries; in fact, the Vatican police band, who provided the pre-match entertainment and played both national anthems, probably outnumbered the huddle of people who gathered together to watch the match from the ground's one small stand.

The Campo Cardinal F. Spellman is part of a larger sports complex, the Cavalieri di Colombo/Pio XI complex at the Oratorio di San Pietro, and was used until fairly recently by the Attività Calcistica Dipendenti Vaticani (Vatican FA) for league and cup matches when both competitions featured 11-a-side teams.

VATICAN CITY SQUAD lines up for the national anthems

Once the formalities, including speeches from dignitaries representing both countries, had been dispensed with, the game could begin, albeit somewhat later than scheduled due to the match officials and a number of the Vatican squad being caught up in the traffic snarl-up in Rome, caused in no small part by an afternoon gathering of some 300000 Italian schoolchildren in and around the Vatican, which had been hosted by Pope Francis.

MONACO SQUAD standing to attention for the national anthems

And what a beginning to the game it was, with Monaco's Olivier Lechner opening the scoring within the first sixty seconds, catching the majority of those assembled, your correspondent included, off-guard with a shot which evaded Francesco Martella and flew into the bottom right-hand corner.

Monaco dominated the early stages of the match, with Julien Sirio embarking on a mazy run down the left wing in the sixth minute; after beating four opponents, Sirio cut into the penalty-area and shot from 10 yards out, but Martella saved well with his legs. Another chance for the visitors saw the home 'keeper gather the ball with some comfort.

The Vatican side were struggling to get their game together, but Andrea Majer did at least propel a shot towards the Monaco goal, only for it to be blocked by a defender.

Another run down the left wing towards the Vatican, this time by Arnaud Sbarrato, saw him clear to the left of the home penalty-area, but he mis-controlled the ball, which was put behind for a corner by a stumbling Majer.

Sbarrato had another chance a minute or so later, in the 26th minute, but, after a one-two involving Lechner, could only drag the ball wide of Martella's right-hand post. Not long after, Nasser Mboreha burst through the Vatican defence, but prodded the ball just a little too far ahead of himself, enabling Martella to get there first and smother the ball.

Martella's feet got in the way of another effort from Sbarrato after 31 minutes, this time after the forward put the ball over a defender; from the corner, after a goal-bound shot was blocked, Sirio's shot from around the penalty-spot went with of the right-hand post.

The home team were still unable to venture forward with any regularity, but Alessandro Quarta had the chance to put the Monaco defence to the test almost straight after Sirio's effort, but, in a chase for the ball from midfield with Jean-Paul Pennacino, only succeeded in fouling the central defender some 20 yards from the Monaco goal.

A shot on anger was finally aimed in the general direction of visiting goalkeeper Fabrice Di Franco's goal after Sandro Traiani mis-kicked a corner from the left-hand side, but Fabio De Cesare, unmarked on the right-hand side of the Monaco penalty-area, could only fire over the crossbar.

AN IMPRESSIVE BACKDROP: The dome of St. Peter's Basilica as seen from the stand at the Stadio Spellman
Still, this little flurry served to encourage the Vatican side, and a corner-kick on 36 minutes, which eluded everyone in the Monaco penalty-area, fell to Quarta on the right-hand extremity of the penalty-area, who could only stand and watch as his shot was well tipped over the bar by De Cesare.

Back up the other end of the field the ball did go in rather prompt fashion, and Lechner almost profited from a weak back-pass from Maurizio Baroncini, but he shot straight at Martella. 

There had been one or two tackles during the first half which one could describe as being rather enthusiastic, and after another one had been pulled up by the referee just inside the Vatican half in the 43rd minute, Sirio earned himself the game's first yellow card, which was immediately followed by some "handbags" of a different kind - and which were also rather less stylish - than those normally associated with Rome.

On to the second half, then, and not long after the restart, Di Franco in the Monaco goal went to head clear from the edge of the penalty area a rather aimless through ball, but completely misjudged his leap, the ball skimming off the top of his head; he was doubtless more than a little relieved to see it trundle past his left-hand post and behind for a corner.

This was the start of a period during which the Vatican had much more of the possession, but were unable to fashion much that would concern the visitors' defence, apart from a shot from San Pietro's Chirieletti in the 54th minute which was well saved by Di Franco. In truth, it appeared as though both teams were starting to run out of steam, and this was reflected in the lack of efforts on goal, a couple of wayward shots excepted. 

It was hardly surprising that a number of the Vatican team were becoming fatigued, as they were on duty earlier in the day during the schoolchildrens' rally in central Rome. Monaco's Lechner, though, was showing no signs of fatigue, and was proving to be a source of worry for the home defence from time to time with his darting runs down the wing.

The stupor was broken in the 77th minute when the Vatican's Marco Puoti received a yellow card for a tackle from behind on Anthony Rinaldi; this heralded the start of a much less restrained last 13 minutes or so, and a Rinaldi's team-mate Olivier Sabine shot wide from the left-hand side after receiving a pass from
Maximilian Agliardi with eight minutes left.

READY AND WILLING: The two teams, headed by flag-bearers and the match officials, wait to take the field

In the 85th minute, Simone Palmieri skied a free-kick in a central position from some 25 yards out. Less than a minute later, the ball had been worked upfield, and a cross from the left-hand side was controlled beautifully on the other side of the penalty-area by the unmarked Kevin Santini, who blasted the ball under the diving Martella from some nine yards out.

The Vatican came forward in search of a consolation goal, though the closest they came was a cross-shot in the last minute of normal time from Chirieletti after his run down the left wing. 

Monaco ran out deserved winners of what was often a bitty - and occasionally fractious - ninety minutes of football, earning their third win in a row against their hosts and easing the pain of their 10:0 thrashing in the Isle of Man almost five weeks earlier. Olivier Lechner and Kevin Santini looked dangerous throughout for the visitors, and their defence looked solid for most of the ninety minutes. Goalkeeper Francesco Martella kept the Vatican eleven in the game right up to the very last minute of normal time, and was blameless for Monaco's second goal. Simone Palmieri was stoic in defence.

Monaco's assistant manager Jean-Charles Arrigo declared himself satisfied with the result in what he described as a "close match, with two teams very close [to each other] in standard." The Vatican City team, meanwhile, can look forward to a friendly match next month against a team representing German side St.-Pauli.

VATICAN CITY: 1 Francesco MARTELLA, 2 Fausto BACCHIANO,3 Maurizio BARONCINI (13 Lorenzo PIEROTTI), 4 Enrico RIMAURO (16 Fabio DE CESARE), 5 Simone PALMIERI, 6 Marco TIBURZI, 7 Andrea MAJER (14 Angelo PALMA), 8 Roberto PERINELLI (C), 9 Fabrizio GAUDIO, 10 Sandro TRAIANI (15 Marco PUOTI), 11 Allesandro QUARTA (18 Marzio CHIRIELETTI)

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 17 Danilo TROIANI

MONACO: 1 Fabrice DI FRANCO 16 Maxime JULIEN), 3 Jeremy HÉBERT, 4 Fabien PETIT (13 Olivier SABINE), 5 Jean-Paul PENNACINO, 9 Olivier LECHNER, 10 Eric FISSONE (C) (17 Maximilian AGLIARDI), 11 Julien SIRIO (6 Jonathan LANDAU), 14 Nasser MBONEHA (2 Marc VASSALLO), 15 Anthony RINALDI, 19 Kévin SANTINI, 21 Annaud SBARRATO

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 22 Olivier EL-MISSAWI
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks are due to the managerial staff of both teams for providing the squad lists for both teams, above all to Danilo Zennaro and Stefano from the Vatican City staff, Monaco's managerial duo of Thierry Petit and Jean-Charles Arrigo, and also to Aurelio Barbis for his tireless assistance and enthusiasm.

There is a possibility that there may be some errors with regard to the Vatican City starting line-up; an attempt shall be made to verify the information provided above. Should the correct line-up not correspond with that stated in this article, the line-up shall be updated.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


The Monaco team were in Rome last weekend for an international friendly against the Vatican City, which took place on 10/5/14, but the evening before saw a group match in the Coppa Sergio Valci - better known as the Coppa Vaticano - between the Guardia Svizzera (Swiss Guards) and Associazione SS Pietro e Paolo. 

The venue was the Associazione Sportivo La Salle complex in the west of Rome, which caters perfectly for the current needs of the ACDV (Vatican FA) as it has two 8-a-side pitches available for use; until fairly recently, the Vatican league and cup competions both had 11-a-side matches, which were regularly played at the Stadio Spellman. Games are 60 minutes in length.

This fixture was the second for both teams in the group stage of the Coppa Sergio Valci after the first round had brought mixed fortunes for the two teams; Guardia had lost 3:1 against San Pietro, but P&P had better luck in their opening game, beating Dirtel by the odd goal in five.

In what was to become a feisty encounter, with your correspondent finding himself to be the lone spectator, Guardia took the lead almost directly from the kick-off after a run down the wing, followed by a pass inside,  from Daniel Hobi, which was met with a rather scuffed side-footer from Sven Stadelmann, which was still strong and accurate enough to evade goalkeeper Walter Maurer and creep just inside the right-hand post.

 BEHIND THE WIRE: The teams get ready for the second-half

P&P almost replied immediately through Paolo Nardi, but his half-volley, delivered after some good work by Salvatore Adamo, flew over the bar. There then followed a period where both teams engaged in some promising moves which did not deliver, until, in the ninth minute, Corrado Del Nero almost levelled for the team in orange after collecting the ball in midfield and forcing his way through, though Guardia 'keeper Rémi Castella saved his shot well. Five minutes later, Del Nero's Giorgio Rossini went close with a free-kick which curled just past Castella's left-hand post with the goalkeeper static.

After Guardia's Hobi had two attempts on goal in as many minutes fisted away - the second most acrobatically after a goalmouth scramble - by Maurer, Stadelmann doubled his side's advantage on 19 minutes when he bore down on goal from midfield and struck a low shot into the left-hand corner of Maurer's net. P&P almost clawed their way back into the game, when a low corner came to Dario Collaiti in the penalty-area; his back-heel came to Adamo at the back post, but his side-footer went high and wide.

Hobi then received a yellow card for a tackle on Nardi, which was then followed by Flavio Massimo Elmi's fine effort from distance going just past the angle of crossbar and Castella's right-hand post. P&P's next attack, in the 25th minute, led to Adamo bundling the ball into Castella's net just as an almight row broke out on the half-way line which eventually led to several players from both sides getting involved in an altercation, but the goal stood.

P&P were in the ascendancy now, and Ruggero Rinaldin's shot from the left-hand side was palmed down by Castella but came back out to the P&P number 6, whose second attempt fizzed just wide. Parity was, however, restored after 29 minutes when Adamo fired a shot through a crowded penalty-area to Castella's right. P&P deserved to go in on level terms at half-time, as they had come back admirably from a strong beginning by their white-shirted opponents.

The second half began with Guardia on the attack, and Roger Staub had the first shot of the half, which ended up going wide of Maurer's right-hand post. P&P's Ruggero Rinaldin had the chance to put his side in front after being on the end of a Corrado Del Nero header, but his deft clip past the onrushing Castella floated across goal but wide.

Guardia regained the lead in the 34th minute, when Martin Büttler passed to Stadelmann, who completed his hat-trick by firing a fierce, low, shot to the left of Maurer, who could only palm the ball into the roof of the net.

Two minutes later, Büttler got his name on the scoresheet when he nipped in just in front of the diving Castella to divert home Roger Staub's low cross. Daniel Hobi lashed a free-kick across the face of the P&P goal three minutes further down the line, and then melée in front of the Guardia goalmouth almost led to P&P reducing the arrears to just the one goal, when a half-shot across goal was almost shinned in by Corado Del Nero.

SPOT THE BALL: Both teams can only watch as Flavio Massimo Elmi's free-kick for P&P flies towards Guardia's goal; goalkeeper Rémi Castella saved his effort

P&P did get their third goal in the 39th minute, and Adamo was the second player to claim a hat-trick on the night, when a throw-in evaded everyone in the Guardia penalty-area, enabling Adamo to ghost in at the far post and sweep the ball over the line. Shortly before being substituted with 15 minutes left, Rinaldin then almost made it 4:4, but his shot from the right-hand side of the penalty area went just past the post.

Manuel Steinmann's long-range free-kick on 46 minutes beat both the P&P wall and goalkeeper Maurer, but not Paolo Nardi, who cleared off the line, and the ball was worked up the field towards Giorgio Rossini, whose shot was expertly tipped over the bar by Castella.

It was 5:3 and four goals for Stadelmann after 49 minutes; he broke from inside his own half, and, despite an ultimately futile pursuit from Nardi, crashed a shot into the top right-hand corner of the net.

There was always a gritty feel to the game, and there was a yellow card for one of the P&P players on 50 minutes after a pull-back on Sébastien Roulin, which was the prelude to a variety of verbal exchanges between several players, leading to a little game of push-shove and a couple of players being pulled apart. The referee occasionally had his hands full, but had kept a good grip on things.

There was still a football game to be completed, however, and Stadelmann had two bites at the cherry for his fifth of the night in the 53rd minute, when he, along with Roulin, broke through the P&P defence, but his shot was saved by Maurer; he then headed high and wide from the resulting corner when unmarked.

Flavio Massimo Elmi's free-kick for P&P was then palmed away by Castella, and, in the closing moments, Büttler had the chance to net his second of the evening, when his shot from the left-hand side was beaten away by Maurer and came back to the Guard, but his second effort was tame and Maurer dropped on the ball at the second attempt.

The referee blew not long after to signal the end of an entertaining match, and it was a deserved win for Guardia, whose pairing of Stadelmann and Hobi had worked extremely well together throughout the match and were aided by some good defending from Manuel Staub.

Salvatore Adamo, as one might expect, took the plaudits as P&P's best player on the night, but Corrado Del Nero, who had been in the wars all night, also put in a good performance. Within half-an-hour of the end of the match, the lights were switched off and everybody had gone home, but the Guardia Svizzera were on the board.

GUARDIA SVIZZERA: 1 Rémy CASTELLA, 2 Manuel STEINMANN, 4 Daniel HOBI, 8 Roger STAUB, 9 Sébastien ROULIN (C), 11 Sven STADELMANN, 19 Martin BÜTTLER, 20 Maurus BEER (10 Ivan SARIC)

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 3 Kevin GOUDRON, Guillaume FAVRE

OTHER PLAYERS IN GUARDIA SVIZZERA SQUAD (positions unknown): Mario ACKERMANN, Andreas AMANN, Raphael EGGER, David GEISSER, Christian KÜHNE, Nicolas KLADIS, Simon RODUIT, Patrick SONDEREGGER, Stefan SUTTER, Sylvain TERCIER, Phillipp WAGEMANN, Franziskus WETTER

ASSOCIAZIONE SOCIETÀ SPORTIVA PIETRO E PAOLO: 1 Walter MAURER, 4 Dario COLLALTI (C) (22 Amadio FRANCESCO), 6 Ruggero RINALDIN (7 Flavio Massimo ELMI), 10 Paolo NARDI, 11 Salvatore ADAMO, 14 Giorgio ROSSINI, 15 Stefano DEL NERO, 17 Corrado DEL NERO

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Ivan Saric (Guardia team manager), Stefano Sacco, Paolo Nardi and Giorgio Rossini (P&P players and assistant manager) for kindly providing the team-sheets, and to them all and also to Giancarlo Taraglio (ACDV) and for patiently putting up with your correspondent's ham-fisted attempts to communicate in pidgin Italian.

Any errors contained above are, as ever, the responsibility of the author; to finish, apologies for the rather poor quality of the photographs.

Monday, May 12, 2014


A double-header in the Maltese BOV Premier League was on the agenda on 1/2/14, but it wasn't that which was envisaged by yours truly before heading off to the tiny Meditteranean country. All will be revealed..
Saturday 1 February brought the promise of a double-header of matches in the BOV Premier League between Hibernians and Qormi, and Sliema Wanderers and Floriana, both of which were to take place at the Hibernians Stadium in Corradino. However, a tempest of almost Biblical proportions put paid to those plans, as torrential rain began overnight, and kept on coming - and kept on coming..and eventually waterlogged the grass pitch, ensuring that both games were called off.

So, a helter-skelter dash across the island of Malta to the Centenary Stadium, Ta'Qali, ensued, where Balzan Youths were to take on Tarxien Rainbows in the late kick-off, with Rabat Ajax, who had only won one game all season, and Vittoriosa Stars first up in the "battle of the basement." More than an hour and three buses after leaving Corradino, your (by now) rather bedraggled correspondent arrived at the stadium just in time to hear a roar from the small contingent of Stars supporters just before half-time, Marcelo Pereira putting their favourites 1:0 up with a header in the 43rd minute.

The second half began with the rain still teeming down and Rabat Ajax on the attack, and Mario Muscat in the Stars' goal did well to turn Diego Carrillo Pendas' free-kick around his right-hand post. Moments later, in the 54th minute, the Magpies almost took the lead when Joseph Caruana's shot, following a clearance from Pendas' corner, struck the outside of the Stars' right-hand post.

In a period when attacking play from both sides was scarce to say the least, a Vittoriosa foray ended with Oscar Guerrero's shot flashing across Pavel Velimirovic's goal. The Magpies kept coming, though, and a virtually unchallenged Adam Smeir, not long after coming on as a substitute, headed just wide from eight yards out and Pendas' deflected shot was well saved by Muscat.

PLAYING ON THROUGH THE DELUGE: Rabat Ajax on the defensive against VIttoriosa Stars (in white) at a rain-sodden Centenary Stadium

Ajax were on top at this stage, but their goalkeeper, Pavle Velimirovic, underemployed as he was, stayed alert and saved Gilbert Martin's effort on 84 minutes, and then, at the second attempt, held on to Ousmane Sidibe's header from just a few yards out. 

As Rabat Ajax were pushing for an equaliser, their opponents were finding gaps in their defence, and Marcelo Pereira's shot was pushed behind by Velimirovic. In injury-time, Pereira should have put the result beyond doubt when put through for a one-on-one with the Montenegrin following a facile disposession of defender Ivan Carapic by one of three Stars' players, but Pereira's shot was blocked by Velimirovic's midriff and the ball went behind for a corner when it should have been lying in the back of the Rabat Ajax net. 

Still, Vittoriosa Stars did enough in the first half to ensure that the points were heading in the direction of the famous Three Cities, and Birgù in particular, though it was tough on Rabat Ajax, who deserved a share of the spoils after a determined showing in the second-half and remained nine points adrift at the bottom of the table.



AUTHOR'S NOTE: The line-ups for the above game were not made available to your correspendent before or after the game in question, and the line-ups as listed above were taken from both The Malta Independent and the website.