SJFA U21 Runners Up – Paris UNCP Plate

Our SJFA Tier 7 (under 21’s) youngsters had an amazing run and reached the final of the Plate Cup. Congratulations to the squad and in particular our Tier 7 manager Arif Bandali. We would like to take the opportunity to thank the organisers for their hospitality during their stay. Our footballers have shared below their blog over the four days. Click here to view our gallery.

Monday 17.07.2017.
Following the disappointment of narrowly losing the Championship final, the squad of 11 gathered in a small room in the hotel. Plans to tear up the mean streets of Paris with some mild night time sightseeing and a team dinner were curtailed by a greater desire to procrastinate and simply get a takeaway. Motivated by this we swiftly went to bed, with a 9am meet in the lobby planned.

Naturally, our plan to leave at 9am had been pushed back. Despite this, with the hotel a 35 minute über away from anything worth seeing, we were all eager to get going. Perhaps a bit too eager to get going, with Maitham not fully researching his chosen breakfast crepe place, taking us on a 40 minute walk up numerous flights of stairs and inclined roads (something that did not sit well with the injured legs of Hasnain and Ilyas, or the lungs of Salman F who had been all too used to him sitting down warming the bench).

The team quickly got some souvenir shopping done, but it was after this that the team was forced to split into different groups, owing to different train times. Once again, for those who had time to visit some of France’s famous landmarks, this involved being forced to tackle more stairs, although this time it ended in the rewarding sight of the beauty of the Eiffel Tower.

Overall the trip has been a great experience. From a footballing experience it was incredible to play in a foreign country and also have the experience of playing games against different teams of different ages and physical qualities and play styles. It was also great to learn more about each other, as well as identify areas for progress for the team. From Mohammedraza teaching us all a different language to watching Zamin flirt in Arabic to the man at the kebab shop in order to nab a discount, we definitely bonded as a team.

As the team returns to home sweet home, we’d like to extend our thanks to Arif uncle who not only was great company on the trip but also who without his coaching and tactical plans, we would not have been able to have the success we did. Secondly to our captain Mustafa. Our literal rock who’s tireless work behind the scenes is unfathomable and appreciated hugely by all of us. Moreover a large thanks must go to SJFA for their efforts in facilitating and supporting our participation, as well as the Paris Jamaat for their incredible hospitality and a thoroughly well-organised tournament. Final shoutout to our photographer Miqdaad Somji, who was a great support for us throughout the tournament and is a squad member. He has certainly supplemented some Instagram posts.

Finally, in the words of our resident French speaker Ilyas, ‘Paris, merci beaucoup’.

Sunday 16.07.2017
Our SJFA Tier 7 (under 21’s) youth had an amazing run and reached the final of the Plate Cup. Congratulations to the squad and in particular our Tier 7 manager Arif Bandali. We would like to take the opportunity to thank the organisers for their hospitality during their stay. Our footballers have shared their diary over the four days.

After a first day in group stages we had managed to overcome some of our injuries and it was our time to shine in the quarter finals where we had a quick start and managed to get a quick penalty in the first 5 mins which the keeper managed to pull off a good save from. However our heads didn’t drop and we kept searching for a goal as the keeper kept saving shots. At halftime we made some changes and continued to press the other team. as time got tight, Abbas received a nice through ball from Shahidabbas on the left hand side where he was able to take a touch away from the defender and hit the ball into “top bin” from 25 yards out. After this we managed to kill some time with Maitham running the ball down in the corner and we progressed to the semi final. We managed to deal with a bombardment of direct balls from Dubai who were strong in the air, and saw out the game. A 1-0 win against a wily, experienced team increased confidence.

The time set closer for the semis kick off and the tension was building up, however we didn’t let the nerves get to us; a quick start with confident and fluid play set the tone for the game, which led us to a 2-0 victory against France B. The SJFA midfield dominated the game, protecting a defence who now had two clean sheets in a row. The attack were fluid and confident, Shahidabbas finishing twice and Maitham having a goal disallowed. After the second goal, the team were relieved and saw the game out confidently.
We were buzzing, but we weren’t done, SJFA youth were confident and determined to go to the finals and put on a show, and that’s exactly what we did, quick start, smooth passing, couple of pings up top to the wingers, and a solid defence to prevent any successful attacks from a France A side who were experienced operators. As the game progressed the tension increased, but the ship remained tight. We piled on the pressure with set pieces and had some penalty decisions not go our way. In the last couple of minutes, an SJFA challenge was deemed a foul. From the resulting free kick, France A sent in a low, hard ball which evaded the team and saw France A score. The last few minutes saw experienced France A pack men behind the ball until the final whistle. It was a valiant effort by SJFA, who had continued to grow throughout the tournament.

Throughout the day, the crowd created a wonderful atmosphere, with memorable chants from France, Tanzania, Dubai and of course Stanmore fans. These continued on the coach on the way back, adding to the jovial atmosphere.

The day was ended by a well spirited closing ceremony, which saw the celebration of the achievements of the various teams and communities of all sports.

In conclusion, it was a a great experience for SJFA who progressed and learnt a lot throughout the tournaments. The future remains bright for a team still in the early stages of development competing against seasoned adults.

Saturday 15.07.2017.
Game day
After weeks of preparation, the day had finally arrived. We had a thorough team talk, reconfirming everyone’s roles and positions so that no-one was left unprepared for the day ahead.

The tournemant buzz began to build up as we travelled in a double-decker coach to the venue. The staff and volunteers were extremely welcoming and the communication barriers were broken down significantly due to many players being able to converse in Gujarati.

Breakfast was provided, with croissants and bananas among the foods available.

Following this, we had a brief training and warm up session prior to our first game.

Paris C were our first opponents and with them holding the home advantage we knew we had to start quickly. We scored first but they equalised later on. In the last seconds of the game we won a penalty, which was converted into the bottom corner ruthlessly. The win was a brilliant way to start the tournemant and allowed us to build up confidence to take into the next game.

The next couple of games, we were in winning positions only to fall victim to set-pieces namely a few headers from corners. This was understandable since we were not used to this kind of wide play and many teams were towering over us. Despite this, there were a plethora of positives we took from the game and we kept persevering.

Game by game, there was a clear improvement in terms of our interplay. After the break we were able to channel this confidence and the invaluable experience we gained as each game progressed allowed us to develop our team chemistry.

This paid off when we not only won against, but dominated the Switzerland team. A huge 3 nil win spurred us on to a strong finish to the day, and although we did not win every game we played, we never lost by more than two goals.This showed that our game plan was solid and we were all able to compete confidently at an international level.

Our final game of the day finished at 10pm and we were all physically and mentally exhausted. A few of the players were carrying injuries, so a good night’s rest was in order. Tomorrow, we go again.

Click here to view the interview with Arif Bandali.

Friday 14.07.2017.
Finally got a decent night’s sleep after the 2am return from the opening ceremony. After waking up around midday, the only thing we were feeling was hunger. We planned the rest of our day while patiently awaiting salaat time, after which we decided to begin our second day of our adventure in Paris, this time opting to take our official team photographer to test out his capabilities. We journeyed first to Jardin de Luxembourg, our understanding of the metro system so comprehensive that even the locals were asking us for directions. As we exited the metro station, an old woman grabbed Miqdad (our photographer) by the hand, using him as a temporary walking stick so she could get back to her ice cream (long story!).

After observing the stunning natural beauty of the Luxembourg Gardens, we headed to an Italian restaurant for some lunch. Refuelled and ready to go, we journeyed to the Louvre, where we captured some magnificent pictures on a beautiful sunny day. Apres ça, we hiked for close to an hour towards the Arc de Triomphe, not forgetting to stop for a taste of the pinnacle of French culture; the crêpe.

We returned to the hotel only to head back out again to the Eiffel Tower in anticipation of the Bastille Day Firework Display. Though we arrived at 9:30, an hour and a half before the start, the wait was more than worth it. The spectacular show was perfectly choreographed and the myriad of colours lit up the pitch black of the Parisian night in an unparalleled fashion.

Following an exhausting day out, we “hit up a kebab shop” and made our way back to the hotel; prayed, ate and slept (in that order!).

Most of the rest of the team arrived in Paris on Friday afternoon, enjoying the range of entertaining sports on show. Captain Mustafa “The Rock” Ramji did not have the best of days. A suitcase lock malfunction lead to an unsuccessful one hour excursion in search of a boltcutter on a bank holiday. After an afternoon nap, the team spent the evening relaxing preparation for the big day.

Saturday morning, Day 1 of the football started with a team meeting in one of the rooms…a discussion filled with positivity, anticipation and all-round excitement.

Thursday 13.07.2017
Tier 7 Paris Preparation report
As the opening ceremony draws nearer, the SJFA U21 squad are finalising preparations for the long-awaited United Nations Cup of Paris 2017. On the back of what has been an intense 2-weeks of training, the team shall now enjoy some rest before the big day.

The last fortnight has consisted of four internal training sessions where the team worked tirelessly on fitness, tactics and coordination and there were clear and consistent improvements in these areas as each session went on.
The team also competed in three exhibition matches, all against formidable opposition with a range of playing styles. The first of the three games saw the young SJFA team pitted against tournament favourites Stanmore A. Being the underdogs did not faze the SJFA boys as they put up an impressive fight and never dropped their heads. Ultimately, however, the experience of Stanmore A proved to be the difference between the teams as they managed to edge out the win.

A couple of training sessions later, SJFA had had more of an opportunity to work on their game plan and were much better prepared for their next match. This time, the young team came out on top – and in convincing fashion. In their third and final fixture, SJFA ground out another win and thus go into the tournament with some momentum having gone unbeaten in their last two matches.

As the youngest team in the tournament, the SJFA U21s go into the tournament with little expectation and a lot to prove; but having witnessed the growth that the team has exhibited over the last two weeks, we can safely say that there are good reasons to be optimistic.