Portuguese loss to AEK tempers Cup win

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

It was a day of mixed emotions for London's Portuguese community.

Early yesterday, London's Portuguese club was the site of wild celebrations as Portugal advanced to the quarter-finals in the World Cup with a 1-0 win over the Netherlands.

In the early evening, there were still the sounds of horns honking and hundreds of cars travelling along London streets waving Portuguese flags. A brave England fan stood on his front lawn at the entrance of Falcon Street, where the Portuguese club is located, waving a massive Cross of St. George flag. England is Portugal's next opponent.

But the Portuguese flags were drooping some several hours later when their London Portuguese soccer team was eliminated from Ontario Cup play, losing 1-0 to London AEK Olympic.

It was the third year in succession that the teams have met in Ontario Cup play. The previous two years, the Portuguese came away with 1-0 wins.

Like the Portugal-Netherlands contest, this intense local rivalry had plenty of points for discussion. Neither team pulled out of any tough tackles and didn't stop competing until the referee blew the final whistle.

If there was a deciding factor, it was AEK's speed and quickness. But even though AEK had the better of the chances, it took two great saves and a shot off the crossbar to prevent Portuguese from tying it late.

"It was nerve-racking," said AEK player-coach Martin Painter. "We created a lot of chances but couldn't score. Then we had a little lapse and they hit the crossbar. They are a good team and it was obvious they were missing a couple of players."

Two of the Portuguese players are in Germany watching the World Cup and two other players just returned from Germany on Friday.

"I like to say that we have the team we wanted," said London Portuguese coach Paul Ellison. "We've got a good team with a lot of depth. I always say that in this competition, the team that wins this game always goes deep in the competition."

Yet AEK and London Portuguese always meet in the early rounds, eliminating one of them from the competition.

It was a battle of distinct styles. AEK showed great speed and quickness, darting into openings and creating chances. Portuguese were strong physically and while there were long periods of time when they didn't have control, all it took was a small letdown by AEK for Portuguese to use their experience to have a crack at the net.

The winning goal was a thing of beauty, created by great speed. It came in the 59th minute when Ahmad Birani beat the Portuguese off-side trap. His through ball found striker Todd Rutledge 20 yards inside the Portuguese half. Rutledge has sprinter's speed and beat everyone to the net. He stuck the ball into the top corner past goalkeeper Paul Azevedo.

"I knew that I could beat them to the ball with my speed," said Rutledge.

No doubt about that. Rutledge has a great future in soccer. He doesn't turn 17 until Friday and he's unfazed about playing against men despite his small stature.

"It's a little more physical but I play against men all the time," he said.

The goal deflated Portuguese. In quick succession Harris Cekic, Rutledge and twice Jason DeThomasis should have added to the scoreline.

Instead, with about 14 minutes left in the game, AEK lost its concentration at the back and in a one-minute span, Portuguese almost equalized.

The best chance came when Alan Hirmiz planted a shot off the crossbar with goaltender John Deliozis rooted to the spot.

They were the last good chances Portuguese had.

"I'm disappointed," said Ellison. "AEK is a very well-organized, disciplined and skilled team.

"But I'm also impressed with my team. We competed, created chances at the end. We had a few chances early and if we had scored on those, it might have changed the shape of the game."

AEK doesn't give up many chances. In five league games and two Ontario Cup matches, they've given up only one goal and that on a penalty.

"This was a beautiful win for us," said Painter.


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