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The Azzurri of the North Shore

East Coast Bays 2, Birkenhead United 1
Bay City Park, Auckland, June 21 2014

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Hands up if you’re tired? Everyone, right? Phew.

This week I have learned a very sad lesson – I’m not a teenager anymore. Whereas before I could get up at 4am every morning during the World Cup and watch everything live, then expect to function as a normal well-adjusted human being for the rest of the day, unfortunately those days appear to be gone. This is all made worse by the social media revolution. If you can watch a game delayed without knowing almost all there is to know about it before you start, I’m afraid you have much better self-discipline than I do. This makes this World Cup a bit experimental as we all pioneer new ways of enjoying the greatest show on earth.

Of course, there are some games you absolutely must watch live, namely, those that include your favourite team, and if you think I’m going to miss Italy kick one ball, you’re dreaming. Having said that however, I do also have an unfortunate habit of making life harder than it needs to be by virtue of my drive to refrain from doing things like this half arsed. Getting up at 3:55am, going downstairs and turning on my TV is far too simple. I absolutely must get up at 2:55am, hop in the car and drive into town early enough to get a good seat at Gina’s so as to watch the game with Auckland’s Italian community. This has its benefits – the $10 cover charge buys you a perfectly made cappuccino and a fresh brioche which wakes you up long enough to enjoy a 90 minute game of calcio. Downstream, it also has its drawbacks – Ummmm, what day is it again?

All this impacts on one’s ability to summons up the will to head out to NRFL on the same afternoon as a 4am game. And I say this before even mentioning the result…

Yes, Italy lost. There. I said it. Now’s the time when you should brace yourself for a sob story. Because here’s the part where I tell you all about how depressed I am, how it’s not fair, and how the whole world is crashing down around my ears…

The funny thing is though, and perhaps this is an age thing too, that’s not how I really feel. Sure, I’m pissed off, but nowhere near as melancholic as I would have been under the same circumstances a few years ago. This is for two reasons really – 2006 and 2006. Firstly, it’s only 8 years since we last won the World Cup and, having seen it happen once already, I’m not as desperate to see it again as I used to be. Secondly, the other thing that happened in 2006 is we had a crappy second group stage game – a 1-1 draw with the USA. I thought that result was the end of the world as we know it. We all know what happened after that.

So no moping around yesterday! The only real thing to do was delete the game off My Sky, get back on the horse, and go watch a different Azzurri – East Coast Bays AFC – take on their fierce rivals Birkenhead United. And just to add to the appropriateness of this course of action, both sides were wearing Italian branded kits! Don’t know why I felt the need to point that out, but there it is…

All that aside, as you might expect from a match featuring last season’s winners and runners up separated only by goal difference in 2013, this was quite an interesting spectacle as it turned out. Two quite well matched teams, both quite young looking and playing similar styles. After starting 2014 quite well, they have both tailed off a bit lately (although Birko enjoyed an excellent win against Three Kings last outing) and sit in that upper mid table zone where you tend to run out of chances to keep pace with the leaders if you don’t keep picking up results. For extra motivation, the current pace setters are a Glenfield Rovers side that neither of these two clubs will particularly relish seeing lift the trophy… A pivotal game for both then.

Birkenhead, to my admittedly untrained eye, seemed to be consistently enjoying the lion’s share of possession throughout the match, although Bays also had a couple of spells maintaining some pressure. The main problem for the visitors though was their lack of penetration on attack. Bays were doing a nice job of frustrating their opponents’ attacking options and, despite all that possession, Birko struggled to find the back of the net. Meanwhile, at the other end, Bays by and large took the chances they were presented with. Namely a first half penalty duly slotted by Mario Hoffman that gave the home side their 1-0 half time lead, and in the second stanza, following a Jarrod Smith equaliser around about the 55th minute, Hoffman completed the scoring with a headed goal.

Unlucky Birko. They were arguably worth a point but on the other hand should have no real complaints about the result. The aim of the game, after all, is to put the ball in the back of the auld onion bag.

Like my Azzurri, all is not lost! Both these sides now sit six points off the lead, with East Coast Bays enjoying the luxury of a game in hand. It’s still very possible for both, but particularly for the Azzurri of the North Shore, to lift some serious silverware in 2014.

Categories: Azzurri NZ Northern Men's Premier

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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