AFNORTH's Tobias Schick, left, and AOSR's Eran Efrima fight for the ball in a hard-fought Division III boys final. AFNORTH took the title with a 1-0 win.

AFNORTH's Tobias Schick, left, and AOSR's Eran Efrima fight for the ball in a hard-fought Division III boys final. AFNORTH took the title with a 1-0 win. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The AFNORTH Lions, just 48 hours after absorbing a 4-0 pool-play shellacking by perennial power American Overseas School of Rome, tuned the tables on the Falcons with a 1-0 victory Saturday in the European Division III boys soccer championship game.

"They run everything through their No. 6, (Todd Kopf), so I put our best striker, James Perea, on him as a midfield stopper," AFNORTH coach Greg Blankenship said of his strategy for handling AOSR, the eight-time European D-III champion which was second to Marymount in the Italy league this year.

"James has better foot skills than he does, so all their plays went to the side. They weren’t able to build in the middle."

Perea took time from his defensive duties to bag the game’s only goal off a free kick just before halftime, and the Lions turned things over to their defense thereafter.

"I learned from Martin Goering from Mannheim that in title games you play defense first, then play defense first again and play defense first again," Blankenship said. "With our speed and defense, once we got a goal I knew it was going to be a long day for AOSR."

Blankenship’s son, Brock, a midfielder, said the Lions jelled after the AOSR loss.

"Our team just came together," the midfielder said. "In the first game, we rushed things and got frustrated. This time, we slowed it down."

Part of the reason for the first-game rushing was the artificial surface the teams trod in their first encounter.

"I don’t mind playing on the carpet if we know about it beforehand," the elder Blankenship said, "but none of our players had turf shoes, and our goalie slipped three or four times. You can’t do that against a team like AOSR. They’re always coming at you."

Facing another turf game against defending European D-III champion Marymount, the Lions went out and bought turf shoes. The resulting 1-0 victory in Friday’s semifinal game changed the Lions’ mind-set, Perea said.

Coach Blankenship praised Perea’s willingness to concentrate on defense when asked.

"We played him as a midfield stopper against Marymount’s No. 4 (All-Europe midfielder Zein Nour), too," Blankenship said. "It says a lot about James that he’d willingly sacrifice like that to help the team."

For the record, AFNORTH keeper Leonard Frederick did no slipping in Saturday’s game on grass. He and the back line of sweeper Tobias Christmann and fullbacks Haakon Olmstead and Aaron Black were up to every challenge. Leonard had to make just three saves as his back line scrambled to clear every threat.

"Our defense," the younger Blankenship summed up, "just shut down a very good Italian team."

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