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Gold at last for Aland
 Women's Football News 13 Jul 2007
Gold at last for Aland - 13 Jul 2007 - Women's Football NewsThe 12th NatWest Island Games were staged in Rhodes from Saturday 30th June to Friday 6th July and the entry list of eleven teams for the women's football competition was a marked increase on two years previously.
Regular entrants from the British Isles, Guernsey and Isle of Man were joined by Jersey and Isle of Wight, who both made a welcome return to the competition having not entered in Shetland in 2005. Meanwhile, Western Isles were making their debut in the competition, and were the only entrants this year from Scotland.
The entry list was completed by past silver medallists Åland and Gotland, bronze medallists in 2005, Bermuda, first time entrants Greenland and Prince Edward Island, and hosts Rhodes. Sadly, reigning champions the Faroe Islands chose not to enter.
Given the climate at this time of year in Rhodes, it was decided that teams would be asked to play no more than four games in the week, and so the size of each group was restricted to three teams. Sensibly, official water breaks were taken midway through each half, and the number of substitutes each team could use was increased from the usual three to five.
Group A got underway with a solitary goal from the penalty spot enough to give Isle of Wight a 1-0 win over Jersey. The other team in the group, Prince Edward Island, were inevitably an unknown quantity, but the suspicion that any island from the North American continent would be strong in women's football was quickly proved correct and the Canadian team raced to 4-0 victories in both their games.
Bermuda quickly wrapped up top spot in Group B, defeating the Western Isles 4-2 on the opening day and then Guernsey 3-1 just 24 hours later. That order of fixtures had been changed from the originally published list so that the Western Isles could avoid playing on the Sunday for religious reasons, but despite the extra rest day this gave them, they still went down 2-0 to Guernsey in the final group game.
Group C saw a major surprise in the opening round of fixtures, with Greenland hammering Rhodes 5-0 - an astonishing scoreline given the difficulty Greenland must have faced in adapting to the 90°F temperatures. Åland, however, were a different proposition, and they defeated Greenland 2-0 before rounding off the group with an 8-0 win over Rhodes.
With Group D containing just two teams, both would play each other twice, and Isle of Man seemed to have drawn the short straw, given that their opponents Gotland had won the silver medal on their only previous entry into the Games in 2003. However, after losing the first game 2-1, the Manx team recorded a sensational 3-1 victory the following day to book a place in the semi finals.
In the play-offs for the minor placings, the Western Isles had a memorable end to their first taste of Island Games football by defeating Jersey 1-0 and then Rhodes 2-0. Sadly for Jersey that defeat saw them end the week without scoring a goal and officially ranked in 11th position, when in reality they are surely much better than that.
Isle of Wight again got the better of their Channel Island opponents, when a last minute deflected strike saw them defeat Guernsey 1-0, and they followed that up with an impressive 3-2 victory over Gotland to claim a highly commendable 5th place. Guernsey also bounced back well to end the week with a 3-0 defeat of Greenland that saw them ranked 7th.
So to the semi-finals, and a close contest was expected between Prince Edward Island and Bermuda. The Canadians had other ideas, racing into a 4-0 half-time lead, and eventually running out 5-0 winners. Meanwhile the Isle of Man had to face Åland, a team against whom they had conceded double figures back on home soil in 2001. With both teams arriving at the stadium with yellow shirts, the Manx team had to play in training bibs but they gave a gallant defensive performance, holding out until the 70th minute and eventually losing 2-0.
With a bronze medal at stake, the third place play-off is far more important than in most football tournaments, and after 120 minutes in the sweltering heat the Isle of Man and Bermuda remained locked at 0-0. Sadly, the Isle of Man missed their first and last penalties to give Bermuda a 4-3 shootout victory and the bronze medal for a second successive Games. Nevertheless, despite the disappointment, the Manx team could surely console themselves with the knowledge that theirs was by far the best Island Games performance a women's football team from the British Isles had yet achieved, with the strength in depth of the competition much greater here than in previous years.
A fascinating final looked in prospect to conclude the week, with neither Prince Edward Island or Åland having conceded a goal. Finnish international Annica Sjölund had been the key player throughout the tournament for Åland but they wrapped up a 3-0 victory without the need for her to get on the score sheet, the goals coming from Lisa Westerlund, Rebecca Björkvall and perhaps fittingly veteran captain Mimmi Holmberg, who had previously won silver medals in 2001 and 2005, to round off the scoring and ensure this time the colour of the medal was gold. Amy Connolly gave an outstanding display for Prince Edward Island but her team missed too many chances in the final and, after a highly creditable debut Games they had to settle for runners-up spot.
Any Island Games event involving Åland can be guaranteed to have colourful and enthusiastic support from their followers, and that was also the case here, with a very healthy attendance for the final. When the Games are next staged in 2009 Åland will be the hosts, and the women's football competition could well be one of the best supported events of the whole week.
Photo - Aland players and supporters celebrate after the final whistle
(Report and photo by Andrew Gilman)

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