For a first time meeting (this year), the Dagostino Cup final between Panhellenic Zeus and Croatia Adria Monday night at Queen's certainly did not lack in intensity. Two of the acknowledged top three teams in SRCSL Men's play (Italia Flyers also earn mention), the clubs battled through a 1-1 draw in regulation time and a pair of scoreless fifteen minute overtime sessions, before settling matters on penalty kicks.
In the end, it was a dramatic diving save by Croatia keeper Dale Pidutti, robbing Laurentian midfielder Trevor Beange of a goal, that would prove to be the difference as Adria outscores Panhellenic 5-4 on penalty kicks to take the Dagostino Cup (formerly Charity Cup) final 2-1. The victory came despite the fact that Panhellenic Zeus controlled large sections of play, with Croatia Adria drawing even in the 85th minute.
A relatively cautious first half sees Zeus open the scoring, as Carleton Ravens' hopeful Brian Hennessy finds the mark early on. Play opens up slightly in the early stages on the second half, as Daniel Keir and teammates drill three consecutive shots off the Croatia wall from just outside the 18 yard box, with Pidutti stymying Keir a second time minutes later from in tight.
While the contest remained close, Croatia coach Brent Huffels searched for answers, looking to create offensive opportunities. "We had numbers in the midfield and we were losing that battle - we looked flat (in the first half) and they were really taking it to us", he said. Still, Croatia Adria struggled to build some momentum, despite back to back corner kicks near the 75th minute.
Finally, on an innocent looking play, Andrew Ferreira sends a great cross from well out that his headed home by Marco Armiento to tie the game at one in the 85th minute. A very gifted natural goal scorer, Armiento had teamed with Jadran Beljo to help anchor the back end through much of this contest, before Huffels opted to set him free.
Straying from a 4-5-1 formation that Croatia Adria has used much of the year, the team switched to a 4-3-3, with Armiento now on the attack, a strategy that helped to equalize the Cup final. Spirited play over the final few minutes would see Panhellenic keeper Thomas Guscott eventually chased from the game after nasty collisions with Mathieu Dugas-Ruest and Derek Huffels, with both plays resulting in yellow cards for the Croatia attackers.
Guillermo Estrada steps in the replace the injured Guscott, but was not severely tested until the end of the opening extra session (15 minutes). Croatia's best chance to win this game in overtime came quite late, as Dieri Drame chipped a shot up and over the top crossbar, after finding a little room on the right side.
Meanwhile, Pidutti remained equal to the task at the other end, punching away a well-directed cross from Keir after Hennessy was fouled just outside the box. With the score still deadlocked at one, we're off to penalty kicks, with the shooters near perfect on this evening. Panhellenic converts on four of five attempts, as Daniel Keir, Travis Perrin, Nick O'Bumsawin and Jon Hussak all beat Pidutti - yet it still wasn't enough.
The Pidutti save looms large as Marco Armiento, Dieri Drame, Rudy Muteba, Fal Diasso and Tony Tagliafierro make it a perfect five for five PK scorecard for Croatia Adria, prompting likely their biggest celebration of the year. No surprise to coach Huffels, who admits he had no trouble motivating the troops prior to the Dagostino showdown.
"This is all the guys look forward to - this one is highlighted, this and the (Italia) Flyers", noted Huffels. "It's all preparation for the Caruso Tournament and, of course, the Croatian tournament at the end of the year." With only six paid entries as of yesterday, the status of the 2010 Caruso Club Tournament, traditionally held over the August long weekend, remains questionable.
The same cannot be said for the 47th Annual Croatian-North American Soccer Tournament being held in St Catherines on Labour Day weekend. Along with defending champion Hrvat Chicago, the 23 team field includes representatives from New York, Ottawa, Oakville and Hamilton, among others. Sudbury Croatia Adria is in tough, having drawn a group that features Croatia Windsor, 2008 champions Croatia Cleveland, Dalmacija Streetsville and Hrvatski Orlovi Milwaukee.