All groups in a football tournament are equal, but some are more equal than others. The less ‘equal’ group is deemed the group of death, the group with a disproportionate amount of quality opposition. While most teams will try to convince observers that their group is the group of death (like England), the objective standard will always prevail. Objectively speaking then, there was no denying that Law was in the group of death this year for the IFG tournament. Grouped with Engineering, a traditional powerhouse, along with archrivals Medicine, it was never going to be easy qualifying from a group which also featured team SDE (School of Design) and USP (University Scholars’ Programme).
While the team did not manage to progress from this group, it was indeed an admirable performance. 3 years ago, Law had not registered a single win against Medicine in 7 years, yet this time, the team barely fell short against quality opposition, missing out by merely one point.
The first game against Engineering set the tone for subsequent games, that Law is a credible force in IFG, no more mere whipping boys. The team, galvanised by Captain Koo Zheng Xuan’s passionate speech in the dugout, dominated proceedings from start to finish, even hitting the woodwork multiple times. Unfortunately, football defies logic from time to time. This time, the team was undone by a last gasp winner by Engineering. Fair play to their striker, it was a peach of a volley. Even goalkeeper Andrew Chua, rumoured to grow 8 limbs whenever a striker is within 15 yards, could not stop the ball from nestling in the top corner. 1-0 to Engineering, not the best start, but certainly an encouraging performance. Interestingly, this mirrored Liverpool’s predicament 2 seasons ago, and it was somewhat nice to see those who were laughing at Liverpool finally exercising some form of empathy.
The second game set things back in order. A comfortable 2-0 victory over USP was enough to put qualification back in Law’s hands. Kai Wen and George Avery both showed good composure to finish past the goalkeeper when put through on goal. Unfortunately, Law suffered a setback, with midfielder Tian Kai suffering a knee injury in the second half. Get well soon, Tian Kai!
As fate would have it, the crunch match was against perennial rivals Medicine. Law needed to avoid defeat so that qualification would remain their hands. Yet Medicine is never an easy battle. Medicine was eager to get one over Law this time, especially after losing at the Law-Med challenge last semester. Even before the match though, Law suffered yet another setback, with ‘Kaptain Koo’ suffering a hairline metatarsal fracture and being reduced to a managerial role.
Medicine dominated proceedings in the early exchanges, with goalkeeper Andrew and defender Eugene Ong somehow defying the laws of physics to keep the ball out. Andrew managed to divert a shot from point blank range, while Eugene managed to head the ball off the line despite the ball being behind him (all these subject to the reporter’s parallax error). There was no stopping Medicine taking the lead in the first half though, when Medicine Left winger Jerome Ong scored directly from a corner. While there have been comparisons between Jerome Ong and Gareth Bale, there was no denying that it was a fluke. Despite being adamant post-match that he intended it, he did sheepishly admit the next day (albeit after some beer) that he was in fact aiming for a teammate’s head, and that the strong wind somehow added to the ball’s swerve.
With qualification in serious doubt now, Law emerged from the dugout more motivated than ever for the second half. Law certainly had the upper hand in the second half, but were unable to convert possession into goals. Wingers Danial Hakim and Hari were creating all sorts of problems on both wings, with the former cutting in constantly from the left and the latter sending in quality crosses from the right. Damian came closest to finding the net, both with fierce shots which sailed just over the crossbar. Vice captain Benjamin Goh, the man with the armband for the day, was also working overtime, bombing up and down the right like Glen Johnson. Yet, Medicine managed to survive the onslaught. As matters became more desperate, the team began to lodge strong appeals towards the referee. One particular exchange of note:
Supporters: Eh referee, ball clearly out of play, how can you not see it?
Referee: Eh don’t blame me, blame NUS lah! Ask them to spend more on white paint and give better field lines.
Bloody witty chap, this fellow.
Medicine ultimately bagged a second to kill off the game, after a swift counter-attacking move in the dying minutes ended with a neat finish from their striker. Qualification was now out of Law’s hands.
Sadly, other results did not go Law’s way. Engineering beat USP through a second half winner. Law was out. But not entirely down. There was still one more match to play for.
Law ended their campaign on a strong note, scoring a comfortable 2-0 win over School of Design. Victor David Lau, whose default position lies in the heart of defence, started and proved his prowess at the other end. While known for his unusually short shorts on the football field (something which existed in the 1970s, but not today), his legs proved to be more than just sexy, providing the assist for both goals in the game. His first assist was a low cross who Kai Wen, who finished it home to end the tournament as Law’s top scorer. His second assist was to set up Mark, who unleashed a fierce volley outside the box. 2 goals to the good, goalkeeper comprehensively beaten. This victory was certainly source of some comfort. Law had comprehensively triumphed over a team which themselves had notched a win against eventual champions Engineering.
While Law was eliminated from the group stage, the performance in this year’s IFG has finally cemented the team as a credible force. Captain Koo mentioned that the journey does not end here, with the team more pumped up than ever for Law-Med early next year.
The team also extends their appreciation to supporters who came down despite their busy schedules, and despite the sweltering heat. Vice-captain Benjamin Goh, when interviewed, emphasises the importance of the twelfth man in every match. It is after all, the twelfth man who could make all the difference when it comes to giving the team a mental edge, giving the team water, or even writing match reports.
On a side note, the Quahe Woo Palmer (QWP) football league opening event will be on 18 September 2013. The football league is a league between 6 teams, namely SMU, NUS Year 1 to 4 and the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
The opening match will be an exhibition match between the Law professors and the lawyers from QWP. Kickoff is at the upper quad and 4.30pm. There will also be free food, free beer and live performance after. Hope to see you there!
Article by Michael Bin (Year 2)
Photos by Danial Hakim (Year 2)