By Eliot Kennedy and Steve Dettre
Fabrizio Coco, Eliot Kennedy, Oli Ollnow, Hermann Kruse
It’s hard to know where to start in reporting on what was an amazing and, in some ways, overwhelming experience! Overall, it was a really great few days, with some impressive individual and team results, some disappointments and a few lessons learned. The Aussie team spirit was tremendous, and it was particularly lovely to see Hermann and Oli again, and to have great support from Fabrizio’s dad Vince throughout and, on the Sunday, Eliot’s wife Jutta.
The organisation by the Italian federation (FISCT) was in some ways brilliant, but in other ways could have been even better. The “room” was amazing (never seen 48 boards set up before with heaps of room around each board!), while the tables, boards and pitches (Astrobase) were very good. The pitches did slow down a little as the venue got warmer each day, but were consistent and of course the same for every player. A late morning start meant a very late finish on the Saturday…the Aussies bailed at around 7.00pm while the top flickers were still going. Just too tired. Getting to and from the venue was not easy either, but we managed in the end. All in all, though, well done FISCT!
WARM UP – Friday
We headed to the venue at around midday on Friday. As well as some flicking amongst ourselves, we managed to arrange international team friendlies with Gibraltar and the Republic of Ireland (ROI) on the Friday afternoon, which was both great in and of itself (our first internationals since the friendlies against Singapore in February 2020, and first against these two countries) and very good preparation for what was to come. Both matches were close, and were played without referees and in a really good spirit. After a narrow loss to Gibraltar, we managed a narrow win over the ROI – our first against European opposition since the 1994 World Cup versus Norway.
The full scores were as follows:
Australia v Republic of Ireland
AUSTRALIA (1) vs GIBRALTAR (2)
Eliot Kennedy 1 Joe Bonavia 1
Fabrizio Coco 1 Lawrence Alvarez 0
Hermann Kruse 1 Daniel Baldichino/Richard Berllaque 2
Oliver Ollnow 1 Joseph Sanchez 2
AUSTRALIA (2) vs REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (1)
Fabrizio Coco 3 Brandon Rodgers 0
Oliver Ollnow 3 Oisin Mac Eo 0
Eliot Kennedy 1 Gary Moore 1
Hermann Kruse 0 Andy Fitzpatrick 1
INDIVIDUAL EVENTS – Saturday
I can say that even at 60, and with many events behind me, I was still very nervous! But the Friday flicks had helped and once I got into it the nerves mainly faded. Unfortunately, we all tended to play our matches at the same time or had to referee when others were playing, so we did not get to watch each other much.
Leroy Justin v Fabrizio Coco
v Leroy Justin (BEL) 1-6
v Alberto Di Maggio (GRE) 0-6
v Bennet Kaspar (ENG) 2-4
v Stefan Sandner (AUT) 1-3
v Lazaros Papakonstantinou (GRE)0-3
v John Marshall (SCO) 5-0
v Frank Stiller (GE) 1-7
v Cesare Santanicchia (ITA) 1-7
v Luis Abreau (POR) 0-6
v Cristian Antùnez (ESP) 2-2
v Christos Hitas (GRE) 0-4
v Francesco Vezzuto (ITA) 0-1
Some fun facts:
• For the second time at a world cup, Eliot won a match (1994: Miroslav Sulc (CZE) 2-1) and 2022 (John Marshall (SCO) 5-0), and in the process was the first Australian player to score more than 2 goals in a game in the FISTF era.
• He joins an elite group with Peter Thomas (2014, Rochefort) and Raffaele Lombard (2016 Framerie) [and himself in 1994] to win a match and thus not finish bottom of his group.
• Eliot’s win was our first since 2016.
• This was the first world cup since 2016 where all players scored at least one goal in their group.
• Oli was our first representative in an ‘Under 20’ to get a point since Will Johncock in 1994.
• His 2-2 draw matched that of Will, who drew 2-2 with Pavel Novak (CZE).
• The coach of the Italian youth team said after Oli’s narrow 1-0 loss to Vezzuto: “If he spends a month at my club, he becomes a top player in England!”
Some quick observations:
• Fab was drawn in one of the toughest groups, against three world class players. He did really well to score in two of his matches, and to push Kaspar Bennett to a 4-2 result (Kaspar drew 2-2 against Italian opposition in the team event on Sunday and is a top, top player on his day).
• My first match was critical. Stefan deserved to win but at 1-2 down, I managed to hit the post 3 times in the one shot…30 seconds later Stefan scored! But even with a draw, I would have gone out on goal difference. Happy to get a big win though, even though I should’ve scored more!
• Hermann, by his own admission, struggled to play his best, and to strike a balance between trying to be relaxed and trying to play hard. I think his (and Oli’s) lack of regular competition in Berlin makes it tougher for them. He had tough opponents though and did well to score in two of his matches.
• Oli acquitted himself really well in a tough group. Getting a point was well deserved.
• The standard of the top players was, as expected, unbelievably high. In particular, the speed with which players both attack and defend is amazing.
• Play goes so fast it is hard to tell, but I still think that there were lots of times when a defender had two flicks when they only should have had one (because the attacker had taken two flicks in very quick succession). I don’t recall it being pulled up even once.
TEAM EVENT – Sunday
Being drawn with Belgium (who made the final), England (very strong) and Northern Ireland, we had realistic expectations about qualifying, but did target the NI match as the one we wanted to win. We had Steve down as a sub for each match, but his FISTF Presidential and media duties unfortunately meant he was unable to flick in anger.
We played England first up. They were too strong for us, as expected. I had the pleasure (and misfortune!) to play Chris Thomas, Peter’s brother. What a great and fair player he is! My only regret was not scoring a consolation goal near the end, but truth be known my keeping kept the score down (as did Chris’s very nice decision not to go for goal when I missed a forcing flick with my spare keeper). And well done Fab and Oli at least scoring in their matches.
Full results were as follows:
Australia 0 England 4
Oliver Ollnow 1 Elliott Bellefontaine 5
Fabrizio Coco 1 Kaspar Bennet 5
Kruse Hermann 0 Darren Clark 5
Kennedy Eliot 0 Chris Thomas 4
Australia v Northern Ireland
Next up we had Northern Ireland, who had gone down 0-4 to Belgium. This was the one we wanted to win, and we came very close to doing so. We were up 2-0 at half time (with Fab and me leading), but NI did well to fight back and make it 2-2. We were well in front on goals overall, but unfortunately it still counted as a draw in a group match. In retrospect, we should have done more research on our opponents, as I think with a different match-up of players we would have won. But fair play Northern Ireland.
Full results were as follows:
Australia 2 Northern Ireland 2
Eliot Kennedy 4 Watson Lawrence 0
Fabrizio Coco 8 Adams Eoin 0
Hermann Kruse 1 Bradley Martinog 3
Oliver Ollnow 0 Stewart Simon 1
Next up were Belgium. Uh-oh!! They were pretty relaxed and I think took it easy on us, but were still way too good. The scores:
Belgium 4 Australia 0
Christophe Dheur 3 Oliver Ollnow 0
Bessim Golger 4 Hermann Kruse 0
Rémy Huynh 5 Eliot Kennedy 0
Florian Giaux 7 Fabrizio Coco 0
Northern Ireland managed to lose only 1-3 to England in the final round, with Simon Stewart having a fine 2-0 win over Bob Varney, meaning that they pipped us for third in the group. That was disappointing, but it was still a great day and we were very proud to fly the Aussie flag!
I stayed for the knockout rounds and witnessed some amazing and very close matches. The passion levels were high – sometimes too high for this Aussie – but most of the matches were played without too much controversy.
In sum, it was a brilliant few days and I hope to experience it again in 2024, rather than waiting 28 years for my next World Cup.
• I was impressed by the spirit of the team, despite losses. All the guys responded admirably, shaking hands, and congratulating opponents. There was no petulance from any of our lads (that I saw!)