D-II boys final
Falcons fly past Saints to cap dominant season
By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 23, 2019
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- American Overseas School of Rome has tasted the bitter side of the DODEA-Europe Division II boys soccer tournament in recent seasons. On Thursday, the Falcons tasted its sweetness.
AOSR shook off two straight years of elimination-round setbacks Saturday at Kaiserslautern High School, routing the Aviano Saints 4-0 in the 2019 European Division II title game.
Alessandro Ianni scored three of the game’s four goals in a magnificent hat-trick performance, including both first-half goals and the final score, while Christian Graziano added a goal early in the second half to extend a 2-0 halftime lead.
The win was the culmination of a dominant season for the Falcons, who entered the tournament as the favored top seed.
“This year, from the first day, we had the objective to win,” coach Giacomo Castelli said. “We knew we had the skills and the mind to win.”
But that confidence went a bit too far Monday as fourth-seeded Aviano played AOSR to a 1-1 tie, a result AOSR considered a needed reminder that this title would not be easily won.
“First game of the championships, we thought we already won it,” Ianni said. “The tie really helped us realize that we need to be concentrated constantly.”
The refocused Falcons went on to oust defending champion AFNORTH in Wednesday’s semifinal, a 1-0 win that still didn’t quite represent the peak of their powers as a number of chances for more goals went unfulfilled. AOSR made the needed psychological adjustments to address that issue as well.
“Today we set our minds,” Ianni said. “’This time let’s not mess it up.’”
To that end, AOSR’s execution was much improved Thursday. Castelli said the team played a “more compact” game in the final, with precision passes leading to quality shots on goal.
“The ball was moving faster between players,” Castelli said.
The Falcons’ revitalization was evident immediately as Ianni scored his first goal from the wing just minutes into the first half.
“I wasn’t going into the game thinking it was an easy win,” Ianni said. “So the moment I scored the goal early in the game I was really happy.”
That first score set the tone for an AOSR romp.
“The team felt the energy, it was building up,” Ianni said. “We knew it was coming.”
AOSR took a devastating overtime loss to Roman archrival Marymount in the 2017 championship match, then fell to that same local nemesis in the 2018 semifinals.
Marymount didn’t field a team in the tournament this year, denying AOSR a chance at a redemptive postseason win at its expense. But the Falcons checked that box in April with a 5-1 regular-season rout of the Royals.
Aviano advanced to the cusp of a long-pursued championship breakthrough, surviving its three-team pool with a pair of ties and edging upstart bottom seed Florence 1-0 in a tense Wednesday semifinal.
Division II continues to democratize after years of authoritarian rule by Marymount’s dynasty. Bahrain began the process in 2015 with an upset of the Royals, to which Marymount responded with a fresh two-year title streak. AFNORTH’s defeat of Marymount in the 2018 final and AOSR’s triumph Thursday means the division has now had three different champions in as many seasons.