Seven and the rampant tiger

I wasn’t the only person who threw myself head first into the Olympics and Paralympics, searching out daily availability for tickets and willing to see everything and anything.  Brian Parish, the brains behind the Daggers Diary went to almost an event a day.  One of these was the final of the 7-a-side football on the last day the Park was open.

After the excitement and drama of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, arguably the best seven weeks of sports seen in this country draws to a close. Both events have created new heroes for the British sporting public to follow, admire and emulate, and after all of the fears about transport, security and almost everything else, I would say from what I have seen, that it seems to have gone fairly well.

From a British point of view, there have been new heroes created, some have re-enforced their higher status, and some have probably increased it. Expect an increase in the popularity of Bradley and Eleanor as babies names over the next year or so.

There were disappointments of course. The GB men’s football team suffered an entirely foreseeable exit on penalties, while the women’s team, having done the hard work by beating Brazil and topping their group, then blew their chance of a medal in the quarter final against Canada. Whether either GB side will appear again is a matter for much debate.

Football though has taken a bit of stick with regards to the behaviour of both the participants and those watching. The spectators at the Games have been roundly applauded for their sporting behaviour and for cheering all athletes, whatever their nationality. Each national anthem has been respectfully observed, and in the land that the concept of fair play was once king, its good to see that it still exists.

Then there are the participants as well. Footballers have not looked good over the last few weeks with their histrionics on the pitch, which has been in contrast to the majority of those Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The biggest drama of the Paralympic Games was the Oscar Pistorious moan about blade length which made headlines all over the place. It was good to see though that he was in better form after retaining his 400 metre title in the last race of the athletics programme. Funny that.

Which brings us back to today and the last few hours of competition. There isn’t too much going on in the park today, but there are a few more medals to be awarded, and we will see the last of them to be awarded in the Riverbank Arena.

There have been two football competitions going on in these Games. Brazil won the five a side tournament on Saturday, beating France in the final but today’s gold medal match will be an all European affair, with Russia playing Ukraine. Prior to that though will be the bronze medal match between Brazil and Iran.

Sunday 9th September 2012; Brazil v Iran, Riverside Arena
The sun is beating down on the uncovered Riverside Arena, on what we are informed is the hottest day of the Paralympics so far. Quite how much longer this is going on I’m not sure. I thought this was the last day of competition.

Not only will the final be a repeat of the Beijing final of 2008, but the bronze medal is also the same. On that occasion, Iran won 4-0, although most would probably expect the next Olympic hosts to win this one.

The teams enter the field of play into the heat and the South Americans emerge in an unfamiliar all white kit. There is almost something inherently wrong in Brazil playing in anything other than yellow shirts and blue shorts.

The game starts, and the white shirts start on top. The Iranians can’t seem to get the ball out of their own half, and their keeper is maintaining a clean sheet. Such is the dominance that it can only be a matter of time before Brazil go in front, so of course we sit in our seats expecting a goal at the other end. It is football logic after all.

Each half is thirty minutes long (plus stoppage time), and so mid way throught the half, Iran, under the cosh for so long, score the opening goal. A quick throw in is taken (which can be rolled on or taken in the more familiar fashion) with the ball ending up at the feet of Atashafrouz who cuts in from the right wing, and sends his left footed shot into the bottom corner of the net.

If the first is against the run of play, then then the next two certainly are, and they probably end the game as a contest. From 1-0 after seventeen minutes, it takes Iran just seven more minutes to score two more. Brazil look stunned, along with most of the crowd. Although they start to get back control of the game as the half draws to a close, they are unable to alter the score. It’s probably fair to say that most were not expecting this.

The fifteen minute interval is nowhere long enough to grab a drink, although some try, and end up missing part of the second half. It follows the same pattern as the first, in that Brazil attack, get nowhere, although the Iranian goalkeeper is having a good game. There are a couple of extravagant dives to shots drifting wide, but the saves he does have to make are mainly comfortable enough. The one time he is beaten sees the ball hit the base of his right hand post and rebound to safety. Brazil are resorting to long range efforts, and most are drifting wide as soon as they leave the foot.

The last two Iran goals are as a result of defenders being caught in possession too close to their own goal. The fifth is arguably the pick of them, with Farzad Mehri getting to the ball just before the Brazilian keeper. His deft touch puts just the required spin on the ball to left it over the keeper, and for it to spin across the line. It’s a lovely goal, and brings a appreciative round of applause from the crowd.

The fifth goal has arrived in the first minute of stoppage time, and although Brazil do try for a consolation score, they are still unable to trouble the scoreboard, and when the added time runs out, Iran have beaten Brazil 5-0. Three things occur to me as the Iranians celebrate on the smurf turf. Firstly that I didn’t think I would ever see Brazil lose by five goals to Iran; secondly, that I don’t recall ever seeing a game where a team had as much of the game and lost by five goals. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, that with less than an hour to go before the final is due to start, do I have enough time to wonder onto the concourse area to get something to eat?

Sunday 9th September 2012: Russia v Ukraine, Riverside Arena
Anyone who has ever been to a big stadium or event will know just how busy the food outlets can get, and the Olympic Park was no exception. In most of the other arenas though, the queues, although long seemed to be served quite quickly. Today though, with the ridiculously high temperatures everyone is trying to get extra drinks, and so the wait for anything is longer than normal. I decide to go for that old football favourite, the pie, which seems like a daft idea on a baking hot day, but it had the shortest queue.

It takes about half an hour before I am back in my seat, which means that there are only about fifteen minutes before kick off, and the camera man is wondering around the stadium, with the intention of getting people to do poses for the big screen which is located in the south east corner of the stadium. Luckily for me, as I am scoffing the last of the pastry, the camera stays well away. I can think of nothing worse than having my face plastered across the screen while I am trying to eat the most expensive pie I have bought at a game.

The pies are ok, but the game isn’t quite as good. In fact, while it is a watchable game, it’s not as exciting as the previous match. Ukraine have won the last two finals, and are obviously wanting to make it a hat trick of wins, but Russia are probably the better team. The half ends goalless, which is a bit of a shock after the first game, but it is like most finals in that there seems to be an inherent fear of losing.

The only goal of the gold medal match arrives half way through the second half. A long ball is misjudged by one of the centre backs, and Ramonov is able to lash the ball past the goalkeeper from eight yards out. Ukraine try to respond and although there are a few near misses, they really don’t look like getting the goal back to force extra time. The Russian celebrations at the end of the game include giving their head coach what looks suspiciously like the birthday bumps, although they don’t throw him too far into the air.

Russia do a lap of honour while Ukraine acknowledge their fans in the west stand from the centre of the pitch. Both teams eventually disappear to get ready for the medal ceremony that will follow shortly. Large sections of the crowd disappear as well. Having been told to be back in the stadium half an hour before the final was due to begin, everyone has now been told that most of the park has now been closed off, and that we will all be directed back towards the Stratford exit. Dagenham Dan is on his way, but I decide to stick around. It’s as the first wave of people leave that we get a few spots of rain, which has people scrambling for umbrellas and rain ponchos although its only a few spots.

The ceremony takes a while to start, and then with around a dozen of players in each squad, the presentation of the medals takes some time as well. I stick around to watch the medals being handed over to each player, before making my exit prior to the anthem being played.

Walking back through the park is a weird experience. It’s strange to see it half empty, having been here before when it has been packed with who knows how many tens of thousands of people. The Olympic, and then Paralympic Games have almost taken over for the last few weeks, and it’s going to be strange having to find something else to watch on the TV.

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