UEFA Regions' Cup Group A is set for a dramatic showdown on Thursday, with high noon in Abano Terme pitching host side Veneto against Hungary's indomitable Keleti Régió.
However, while the players will give everything on the pitch at the Stadio de Monteortone, the spirit of respect and fair play (i.e. no spinning) prevailed as the sides' top scorers met for a spot of table football in the team hotel. Playing in blue, Veneto's three-goal Franco Ballarini; in red, Keleti Régió’s inspirational captain Imre Domokos, who has scored twice – in addition to the four he registered in the qualifying tournament.
Both are thoroughly enjoying their time at the finals. "The whole tournament is amazing," said administrative assistant Domokos, 29. "It's a great success just to be here and the standard is very high."
Tax collector Ballarini added: "This happens only once in a lifetime. Being together for so long has made us a strong group which doesn't really happen at the amateur clubs we play for, because we only really meet up to train and play. Here we're all staying together and this is beautiful – you give each other a hand on the field more willingly too."
Many observers' favourites to win the tournament, Veneto are a stylish side, with forward Ballarini (who confusingly wears the No3 shirt) explaining: "The mentality not only of Veneto but of Italian football in general is to be patient and wait for chances on the counterattack, but we have lots of good players here so we definitely want to impose ourselves on the game." Domokos, meanwhile, characterised Keleti Régió's game as "we like short passing and we like to keep hold of the ball".
As it stands, Keleti Régió have to win to make it to the final and Domokos knows that will not be easy. "They are a great team and obviously they want to win the tournament, but we do too," he explained.
A draw would be enough for the hosts – who won the first edition of the world's top amateur football tournament back in 1999 – but Ballarini knows what his side are up against. "They are going to be really determined because they have got to win at all costs," the 26-year-old said. "We expect them to be very aggressive and determined, but we will be too."
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