CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan --
When Marines and sailors are not patrolling and supporting missions in Afghanistan, they often exercise to relieve stress and pass time. With the 2014 FIFA World Cup currently underway, the Marines of “Suicide” Charley Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, decided to host their own soccer tournament aboard Camp Dwyer, June 21, 2014.
“During my weekly operations and intelligence meeting with Lt. Col. Ghani (the 1st Brigade Operations Officer, 215th Corps, Afghan National Army), we have talked about soccer and the World Cup,” said Capt. Alistair Howard, the commanding officer of “Suicide” Charley Co., and a native of San Diego. “He is a huge soccer fan. I said I would like to have our own version of the World Cup on base since we have multiple countries here. When I mentioned I wanted to get a Marine team, Sgt. Eduardo Ayala put a signup sheet in the chow hall and quickly stepped up as the team captain and organized practices to create a solid team.”
The tournament was also held in celebration of successful security operations in support of Afghanistan’s presidential runoff elections held June 14. Four teams participated in the tournament: Team America, Afghanistan, Jordan and the World Team (consisting of contractors on the camp). Due to the location of Camp Dwyer, there wasn’t a grass field to play on, so the participants improvised and played the tournament on a dirt field.
The first game commenced at 7:30 p.m., June 21, with the World Team facing the Jordanians. The two teams battled fiercely for more than an hour, but neither team had scored by the end of the two halves. The victory was to be decided by a shootout.
The players from both teams gathered around each shooter and goalie and the shootout commenced. The roaring cheers and chants of the spectators suddenly broke into complete silence as the first shooter from the World Team prepared to shoot. All eyes watched as his foot stuck the ball and it soared into the top right corner of the goal. Flags waved, water bottles flew into the sky and deafening cries of joy erupted from the World Team spectators as they celebrated their lead. The Jordanians reacted to the ecstatic fans and scored a quick grounder to the left side of the goal. More shots scored from both teams, some were blocked and occasionally some missed, but ultimately the World Team won and earned their spot at the championship game the following day.
The Marines faced the Afghan National Army team directly after the World Team’s victory. From the Marines’ perspective, the ANA was an intimidating opponent because they have a brigade team that practices on a regular basis. While many of the Marines on the team played soccer for a few years during school or for fun, they haven’t played much since. The Marines managed to practice twice before the match.
The ANA soldiers confidently took their positions on the field, their dark blue and lime green jerseys a stark contrast to the Marines’ characteristic green-on-green physical training uniform.
Much like the match prior, it was a fierce faceoff between the two teams. Dust arose and rocks tumbled as the Marines and the ANA attempted to breach each other’s line of defense, but all efforts were in vain and the first half ended scoreless. The second half was much like the first, but with just a few minutes left before the final whistle blew, something remarkable happened.
With sweat running down their faces and soaking into their shirts, the Marines gained possession of the ball and maneuvered up-field. The teammates passed to one another and before long they were within scoring distance. The Marine with the ball was being pressured by two ANA soldiers and nearly had the ball stolen from his possession, but he passed it to Ayala in the nick of time. Ayala had immediate coverage on him by one defender as soon as he received the ball. He swiftly made a split second move around the opponent and took a shot from more than 30 yards out.
Players and fans alike watched the ball as if it were in slow motion while it sailed upward over the field. From a distance, the ball looked like was clearly going over the net, but it began to drop. Falling rapidly as it approached the goal, it managed to sneak its way between the top horizontal post and the goalie’s fingertips. Cheers and shouts erupted as fans celebrated the first goal of the tournament.
“I had an opportunity and took it,” said Ayala, a native of Richmond, California. “It was a really lucky shot, and it won us the game.”
The Marines’ defense kept the Afghans at bay for the remainder of the game and earned their victory. Both teams met afterward and shook hands with one another in happy spirits following a well-played game.
Both the World Team and the Marines had a night of rest before playing in the championship game the following day at 8:30 p.m.
The Marines arrived on the field with tremendous energy and motivation. The victory the night prior with the odds against them only added fuel to their fire.
Howard, the referee for the game, blew a whistle and the game commenced. The first half began in a lively manner and each team had several scoring opportunities. Despite numerous shots on goal, the goalies held their own and the half remained scoreless.
The team captains rallied their men during the break between halves. Tactics were discussed and spine-tingling shouts of motivation could be heard from the Marines as they broke from a huddle to begin the second half.
Days prior to the tournament, the Marines scrimmaged the other teams and lost to each one. Each scrimmage the Marines were outplayed and outmatched, but they defied all odds when they defeated the Afghans and were a force to be reckoned during the championship game. One look into any Marine’s eyes revealed their lust for victory. The Marines only needed to score one goal to secure their place as champions of the Dwyer World Cup, and that’s just what they did.
Midway into the second half the Marines gained possession of the ball and quickly moved up field. They passed it to one another until an Afghan interpreter on the Marine team gained possession of the ball. He sprinted diagonally to the outside of left field, juked out a defender and fired a shot on net. The ball managed to slip through the goalie and zoom into the right corner of the goal. Hair-raising cheers came from the Marines as they cheered for their comrade’s goal.
The clock ticked down and before long, the game was finished and the Marines emerged triumphant. Both teams met with smiles on their faces, shook hands and gathered for a photo with the trophy.