Courtesy of Richard Browne - BUCS media team
KAZAN, Russia – Great Britain and France served up an enthralling final at the Rubin Stadium, Kazan, with both sides and their supporters creating an unforgettable occasion, if also a bittersweet one for Team GBR. Former Duke University goalkeeper James Belshaw anchored the Great Britain defence as it fell to France 3-2 in extra time to earn the silver medal at the World University Games.
The match began as it would go on, with little to choose between the sides. Alex Dyer and Gavin Malin had early opportunities for GBR, while James Belshaw made a good save from Florian Sotoca.
It was France who made the breakthrough, capitalising on a rare lapse in the GBR defence. Sotoca was allowed a free header at the near post and he made no mistake.
On the half hour, however, Sotoca gave away a penalty for clouting James Baldwin with a high foot. Malin, who scored the winner against Ukraine from the spot, stepped up but this time his penalty was saved.
As half time approached GBR were making effective use of set pieces to give France serious headaches but could not find the net. France also remained a threat on the counter, only a last-ditch block by Luke Graham stopping Kevin Bacle from extending his team’s lead.
GBR’s task doubled in difficulty five minutes into the second half. Just after Dyer had had a shot palmed over by Hugo Baque, France attacked with pace down the right and Maverick Barsotti’s low cross hit Jack Winter and found the net.
GBR made changes, bringing on Jake Parrott, Marc Newsham and Craig Moses, and with just over 20 minutes left they pulled one back. Dyer played an excellent through ball to Micky Rae, and he scored with a composed finish.
Rae almost equalised a couple of minutes later, diving onto Winter’s cross, only for Baque to make a fine instinctive save and turn the ball around the post.
GBR then had to survive French pressure, Belshaw making crucial saves from Fanch Weyders and Sotoca and Parrott clearing off the line from a corner.
That meant an equaliser remained a possibility, and GBR scored it in the very last minute of added time, again through Rae. Substitute Tom McCready played the ball into Rae’s feet, he turned his man, wrong-footed Baque and slotted in.
That goal meant extra time, which was an edgy affair between two tired teams desperate for a knock-out blow. The balance shifted back in France’s favour when Parrott was sent off for a second yellow card, Maxime Brandy’s rolling about on the floor making the most of a fairly innocuous challenge.
The sides remained in something of a stalemate until 23 minutes into extra time, when France scored the killer third, Weyders meeting a cross from the right to volley in.
GBR could not quite muster another equaliser, and so had to accept silver at the end of a thrilling match between two very good sides. This was their best performance in Kazan, losing out on the narrowest of margins, and their medals indicate just how well they have done to get to the final match.
Captain Kieran Murphy said: “It’s been beyond my wildest dreams what we’ve achieved. Obviously I’m gutted because I was desperate to win gold.
“But the silver medal represents the highs of our wins against Ukraine and Russia, the team spirit, and all the memories we’ll take away from Kazan.”
Head Coach James Ellis said: “It’s disappointment because we’ve got to the final and could have won gold. But we’ve done so well to get into the final again, it’s a huge achievement, and I hope the players will reflect on that later.
“They’ve done their country and themselves proud.”