EuropeD-II boys soccer
AOSR caps perfect run with convincing win
Stars and Stripes May 18, 2023
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – American Overseas School of Rome senior Gabriele Ghione was experiencing flashbacks to last spring when he stepped into the stadium at Ramstein High School.
Sure, the 2022 final was played at Kaiserslautern High School, but Ramstein’s setup has a similar feel to him and the Falcons. Add in the same opponent in Naples, and it felt familiar.
“I saw the field – it reminded me of the field from last year,” Ghione said. “There was a lot of tension before the match, but we knew we were confident that we were a better team.”
The familiarity ended there.
AOSR defeated the Wildcats in the Division II DODEA European championship on Thursday, 5-1, nearly one year after falling to the same opponent.
The loss motivated the Falcons (12-0). They were determined not to fall short at the last hurdle. AOSR showed that determination by allowing just three goals all season – and just one from open play.
“It feels right after how much we worked this year, especially after last year,” Falcon coach Giacomo Castelli said. “Last year, we deserved a bit more, but this year, from the first day of training, we had a very, very good connection with the players.
“We got an objective, and everyone worked hard to get there. Step by step, we defeated every team that we played.”
For a half, it looked as though Naples (6-3-2) continued to be AOSR’s bogey team, as the game was 1-1. Jackson Shorey curled in a free kick from near the corner 36th minute to wipe out a headed goal from Ghione off a cross from Nicolo Giuffrida in the 34th minute.
Castelli noted AOSR had an advantage on the wings. The Falcons’ 4-3-3 and the Wildcats’ 3-5-2 formations meant the Falcons should have had overloads on the outside, but Castelli said his team didn’t use it enough over the first 40 minutes.
After a tweak at halftime, the Falcons began using that width, and it paid off with three goals over a six-minute span. It started with a Ghione penalty in the 51st minute after Naples defender Michele Cascone took him down in the box. Then, in the 54th minute, junior winger Valerio Di Cesare crossed the ball low to Ghione, who turned and one-timed a shot to make it 3-1.
Then, in the 56th minute, in another cross-field through ball, senior winger Zane El Kilany beat Wildcat goalkeeper Mayo Urban to it and got around him to make it 4-1.
To keep with the wide theme, El Kilany stayed wide and fired home a second goal from a tight angle in the 73rd minute.
“We’re a team that plays a lot with the width, and we create space,” Castelli said. “We were doing the mistake of playing on the white (gridiron) lines. We were giving away 10 meters of the field that we can use. In the second half, we did it correctly, and we see the improvement.”
It also helps when the team has a talisman striker.
All of Division II devised plans to stop Ghione, and pretty much all teams failed. The Wildcats themselves tried to be aware of where he was at all times, with calls of “watch out for No. 9” ringing throughout the match.
It’s something to which Ghione has grown accustomed.
“Once I’m in the game, I’m in the game. I don’t see what’s outside,” he said. “After a goal, you celebrate a bit, but I’m focused on the game. It’s 22 players and there’s a ball, and that’s the only thing I think about on the field.”
Although it ended in a loss, the Wildcats turned around a season that started 0-2-1 before making a run to the final.
Coach Dirk Lambertson praised his players for the run and keeping the title match close for 50 minutes.
“We started off the season difficult with a tie and two losses, and we ended up pulling things together,” he said. “The way we played through the tournament, I’m super proud of the players.”