The first day of five-a-side competition at the Special Olympics World Games on Monday entertained a sizeable crowd at sunny Belfield in Dublin on Monday, with a number of the smaller nations impressing spectators that included Republic Of Ireland international manager Brian Kerr.
Barbados proved to be one of the most exciting sides on show, starting their day with a keenly fought 4-4 draw with Algeria. The Caribbean nation then went on to comfortably defeat Spain 9-1 in their afternoon match. The impressive Joseph Browne and Dwayne Springer each scored a hat-trick in a one-sided encounter.
One of the more competitive games of the day was the Group 6 clash between Trinidad and Tobago and the Netherlands. Again, the European team ended up on the wrong end of a losing scoreline with Trinidad taking the spoils 6-3. Tall striker Jermaine Saunders was the key factor in the victory, coming off the bench to score four goals in a technically impressive encounter. Teenager Nedjed Bekoun shone for the Dutch, scoring twice and generally causing havoc every time he ventured forward.
One European nation who did enjoy a good day were Cyprus whose men's team defeated the USA 3 side 6-1 in their morning match. Later on the Cypriot mixed side defeated Egypt 3-0. Cheered on by a noisy band of supporters, the Cypriots proceeded to dance around the grounds of the campus proclaiming their victory.
The largest and most vocal support of the afternoon unsurprisingly accompanied the Irish side in their clash with Zimbabwe. The host nation conceded an early goal to the Zimbabweans, who had earlier lost 2-1 to Great Britain, and despite the urgings of the home crowd, the spirited Irish could not find a way past the Zimbabwean keeper for the rest of the game. Both sides left the field to a rousing reception.
The Dutch women enjoyed better fortunes than their male counterparts, with their number 1 and 2 sides both triumphing over the USA 1 team in the morning and afternoon respectively. Germany and Zimbabwe also started well in the women's tournament, taking full points from the first day's play.
At the other end of the playing area, away from the action, former England assistant manager and Northern Ireland boss Lawrie McMenemy was involved in the training ground where each team received a coaching session to hone their talents ahead of their matches.
All in all, the weather and the high level of skill on show made it an extremely successful start to the competitive element of the five-a-side football tournament. While it may be too early in the tournament to judge, the strong performances of the African and Caribbean sides would suggest that they could well walk away with the major medals come the end of the week.
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