The current CONIFA European champions, Padania, overcame Panjab by two goals to nil to progress to the last four of the competition.
Panjab vs Padania was the pick of the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup Quarter-Finals, in what was a repeat of the tense Semi-Final between the two sides in 2016.
It was an explosive start to the game between the two highest ranked teams in the tournament, with Padania very nearly gifting the prolific Amar Purewal an opportunity. The forward looked to latch on to Nicolo Pavan’s header back to his goalkeeper, fortunately though, the defender put just enough on it for the ball to reach Marco Murriero in goal.
Soon after, Amar’s twin brother, Arjun Purewal, sent a header flying just wide of the Padania goal after a great delivery from a Raj Virk free kick, which the midfielder had won near the half way line.
Gianluca Rolandone was booked for his challenge, and that was to set the precedent for the remainder of the game with the referee brandishing several more yellow cards to players of both teams.
The punishment for Gabriele Piantoni could have been greater when he hauled Amarvir Sandhu to the ground just as the Panjab captain looked to play Amar Purewal in on goal. Just a caution was given to the midfielder, though, and Murriero gathered the subsequent free kick comfortably.
Panjab were the better side in the early stages of the match, but Padania had a golden opportunity to grab the opening goal after 28 minutes.
The northern Italians scrambled away a Panjab free kick with the ball running to Giacomo Innocenti who flicked the ball over Toch Singh on the half way line before racing through on goal. Padania’s talisman though was denied by an excellent save by Yousuf Butt in the Panjab goal.
Butt produced another stunning save several minutes later. A beautiful passage of play between Padania’s Luca Ferri and Federico Corno ended with the latter arrowing an effort goalwards, but Panjab’s keeper was equal to it.
A scuffle broke out just before half-time when Padania players reacted angrily when Nathan Minhas was adjudged to have unfairly barged Nicolo Pavan to the floor. The referee did well to calm the situation, though, which resulted in only Minhas receiving a yellow card.
Despite Panjab going into the break being arguably the better of the two sides, it was Padania who had the two best chances of the game so far. The deadlock meant that there was still everything to play for in the second-half.
And it was Padania who came flying out of the traps in the second period. Piantoni completely mistimed his header to send a good chance well over just seconds after the restart.
Not long after, the same player arrowed Innocenti’s cross towards the Panjab goal, but Yousuf Butt produced another save to keep out the northern Italians.
There were soon to be even more goal line heroics in the 56th minute. A deep Padania cross was punched away by the Panjab goalkeeper, but fell to Innocenti who looked to volley it into an empty net. Somehow, though, Panjab’s Aran Basi threw himself in the way of the shot before Aaron Minhas hacked it away.
However, from the resulting corner Padania were awarded a penalty with Amarvir Sandhu being harshly adjudged to have clipped Padania’s Marius Stankevicius in the box.
Innocenti coolly stepped up to send Yousuf Butt the wrong way and put his side 1-0 up in this huge Quarter Final tie.
Reuben Hazell threw on Gurjit Singh, Arjun Jung, and Kamaljit Singh for Raj Virk, Toch Singh, and Nathan Minhas as Panjab looked to equalise.
Gurjit Singh brought the crowd to their feet when his quick feet weaved the ball past three Padania challenges before threading a pass through to Sandhu whose cross was blocked for a corner.
In the closing minutes, as Panjab poured men forward in search of an equaliser, a devastating counter attack led to a second Padania goal.
It looked to be a final chance for Panjab with the referee awarding them a free kick in the final minute of normal time. But their attempt to play a set piece routine was intercepted by Michele Bonfanti who then clipped a delightful ball over the top for Innocenti.
The creative midfielder drew Panjab players towards him before passing across goal for Nicolo Pavan to tap into an empty net.
And that’s how it ended, Panjab 0-2 Padania. The northern Italian side progress to the semi finals while Panjab will now face host nation, Barawa, in a placement game.
Written by Keiran Samra.