On Sunday, CUAFC earned a creditable draw against a touring side from the Japanese Biwako Seikei Sport College. The result is a real indicator of the progress made by the Blues in the last two years. Coming as they did from a goal down against highly skilled opposition is no small feat and retaining the Varsity crown later this month looks almost a formality.
As their name would imply, the day's opponents came from a strong sporting tradition, with their team playing in the third tier of their native professional football leagues. The Japanese were technically well-honed and had a clear idea of their individual roles on the pitch. Indeed, prior to the match, Biwako Seikei had cited Barcelona as their template.
Initially, at least, they created a more than passable impression. Not only did they play out from the back with confidence, but their passing in the offensive third was sharp enough to take Cambridge's defenders out of the game almost at will. The visitors were also savvy enough to interrupt Cambridge's rhythm with a number of cynical fouls. The first half was played out with the Japanese almost entirely on top.
However, it was not until the 35th minute that Biwako's dominance was converted into a concrete chance. With the ball played from the flank into the inside-left position, a powerful effort was driven from distance against the near post of the Cambridge goal. The warning was not heeded. Just five minutes later, the Blues defence again failed to press the Japanese forwards. With the Blues inviting the pressure, the effort once more came from range. This time, it found the top right corner.
Having struggled to keep pace in the first half, Cambridge re-emerged with greater vim. At half-time, Blues coach Che Wilson had emphasised the need to pressure the visitors higher up the pitch. The resultant change was immediately noticeable. Even though it arrived in unorthodox fashion, their equaliser was well deserved. On the 70 minute mark, the powerful Haitham Sherif drilled a low cross in from the left. Under pressure, Biwako Seikei's central defender managed only to slice the ball into the top right corner of his own net. Thereafter, it was Cambridge's pretty passing that threatened to force a winner. Unfortunately for them, however, the clock favoured the opposition.
Regardless, the Blues will look back on the result favourably. It was just reward for a dominant second half, in which they successfully nullified their opponents and regained their own fluidity. It is a credit to both Wilson's management and the talent of his squad that such major opponents, albeit in a friendly, can be matched almost seamlessly. Top of the league and in the national cup final, confidence can only be high going into the clash with Oxford on March 30th. With performances like this, Selhurst Park should bear witness to a Light Blue triumph.
Felix de Grey