RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — If Wednesday’s DODEA-Europe Division I boys soccer semifinals were films, reviewers could have a great day pointing out the similarities.
Both showed brave underdogs against bigger and favored opponents. Goals were fewer than balls bouncing off bars. And the drama mounted until the final few minutes as the favorites emerged victorious and made their fans happy – while the losers could only hope for a sequel next year.
Ramstein meets Stuttgart for the title on Thursday after emerging victorious from those games. The Royals scored in the final minutes to give Black Forest Academy a 1-0 win while the Panthers needed extra time to defeat Wiesbaden 2-1 in a game that remained scoreless until the final minute of regular time.
“I think it might be fitting that number 1 and number 2 meet in the final,” said Stuttgart coach Chris Kelly.
The teams unusually did not play in the regular season due to a truncated schedule.
“This is the game I’ve been waiting for,” said Ramstein’s Maxim Speed, who scored the winning goal for the Royals. “I’ve been waiting for this all season.”
But that matchup was in doubt in every game late into Wednesday. Ramstein made 20 shots on target during the contest, but Falcons goaltender Kaleb Kroeker saved 10 of them.
The Royals’ best odds, in order: Landon Shockey’s shot hit the left post; Shockey’s shot from just yards out was intercepted by Kroeker; Speed’s shot hit the left post; Xaiden Franciso’s attempt at a cross pass was 4 feet high; River Rocha’s header from a corner kick was 3ft up.
“We created so many chances to score in the first half,” said Ramstein coach Dominik Ludes. “Of course, in such a tight game, it’s often about a chance. Would I have liked this opportunity to come much sooner? Yes.”
It was still 0-0 late in the game when a handful of players from both teams fought for the ball just in front of the BFA goal box. When a ball seemed to touch the arm of a defending Falcon, almost everyone stopped.
“Me too, but then I saw out of the corner of my eye that the referee signaled an advantage and ‘keep playing’,” said Speed. “I saw a chance to take a shot.” He did, and Kroeker didn’t have a chance to stop his rocket into the top left corner of the net.
Royals keeper Everett Majer said Ramstein has an advantage in such a competition.
“It’s the kind of game we’ve been playing all year,” he said. “When we came into the tournament, we were prepared for such exciting games.”
The second game could have been even more exciting.
Stuttgart dominated most of the game and beat Wiesbaden 22:6. But many of the Panthers’ shots weren’t a serious threat. And part of the reason the Warriors were lower overall was because they had an extra player on defense, making it harder for the Panthers to coordinate attacks.
“They have to recognize Wiesbaden for their game plan,” said Kelly.
Just minutes from time, Stuttgart’s Richard Youngs was pulled down close to goal, resulting in a penalty kick from Panthers captain Andrew Wagner. Wagner drilled the ball into the net.
But before the end of the season, the Warriors made a final attack and, thanks to a snapped jersey, took a penalty in front of the Stuttgart goal. Noah Lee joined and regulation ended shortly thereafter.
After some uneventful possession, Wagner broke the touchline on the left side of the field, caught a pass from Ryan Stevenson, shot from the left side of the net to the right corner and the game was over.
“I saw a gap, got the ball and shot it,” Wagner said of his second goal.
“We hoped that we would go into extra time, where anything can happen,” said Wiesbaden coach Marco Zaccardelli. “It happened, but it went against us. That’s football.”
The Royals and Panthers play in Vogelweh at 5 p.m.
The two teams playing hours ahead of the Panthers and the Royals are the Naples Wildcats and the American Overseas School of Rome Falcons. They were the top two teams in Italy during the regular season.
AOSR, who defeated Napoli 1-0 on Wednesday after the Wildcats had already secured a place in the final, did not lose in the tournament.
Struggling against Division II competition during the regular season, Sigonella reached the finals in a dominating manner. After a 1-1 draw with AFNORTH, the Jaguars beat their next four opponents 20-1.
Brussels, who are seventh ahead of the tournament, have won all their games by a margin of 19-4.
The Jaguars and Brigands, who have not played this season, will open the championship game at Vogeweh, starting at 9 a.m.