All eyes on Heidenheim
Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Group A at the UEFA Regions' Cup has caught the imagination of the European media.
By Jim Wirth
While Ligue du Maine Amateur's 4-2 win against Geyazan Amateur has settled matters in Group B, the remaining UEFA Regions' Cup final place remains up for grabs in Group A.
Germany's Württemberg Amateur, Italy's Piemonte Valle d'Aosta and Spain's Principado de Asturias Amateur are all in with a chance of joining the French side in Saturday's final in Heidenheim with one group match remaining, and the pressure is on.
Not least because the Group A teams have found themselves at the centre of what, in terms of amateur football, could almost be called a media circus. Tuesday's game between Württemberg and Asturias in Schwäbisch Gmünd attracted a pack of reporters, 950 spectators and a Spanish television crew who are relaying all of Asturias' games live to a station back at home.
The contrast between the Group A hotel in Heidenheim and the relaxed mood at Group B centre in Wangen is not as dramatic as it may seem, though. Despite the task at hand, tempers have remained even, except perhaps those of the hotel guests who have been kept awake by Piemonte's marathon table tennis games, which can spill over into the early hours.
Piemonte players, incidentally, are easily spotted by their "Italian boys do it better...baby" t-shirts. However, there are no jokes on the shirts when they go out to play, as they demonstrated in their 3-0 win against fellow Italian speakers Ticino Amateur of Switzerland.
The prospect of keeping so much latin blood cool may have been daunting for some - the players may be amateurs but their gestures are easily up to international standard - but English referee Eddie Ilderton managed to keep control. "They played fair," he told uefa.com, adding: "It's a different type of football from England."
Coach Michele Delvecchio has been delighted to lead Piemonte's campaign. "The tournament is the best thing that UEFA have ever come up with," he told uefa.com. "It gives amateurs and young players the chance to compete at this level. I would like to extend my thanks to UEFA."
However, despite the positive mood, Piemonte striker Marco Bergantin still thinks his shirt is cursed. Unhappy to have been given No9 when squad numbers were handed out, Bergantin greeted a disallowed goal against Ticino with the anguished words to his bench: "It's because of the shirt."
Württemberg are yet to cave in to superstition, although they already know that magical things can happen in their team. It was not so long that a young striker called Kevin Kuranyi scored the goal that won them the German place in the qualifiers for the Regions' Cup.
The same striker is now playing for VfB Stuttgart, and having scored regularly for his club last season to take them to second place in the Bundesliga, is now preparing for his first UEFA Champions League campaign with his club.
It is a dream come true, but the dream is now over for Ticino who will return to Switzerland after Thursday's game. However the farewell, when it comes, will be a fond one for coach Fabrizio Vavassori. "It was a fantastic experience to play at a higher level than we are used to," he told uefa.com. "We learned a lot from being here."
No complaints and no regrets. There will be dreams shattered on Thursday's final day of Group A action, but even for those who fail, there will be fond memories of Württemberg.