Under the stewardship of Dan Jacobs and Jamie Cole, the 35+ side were the only senior football squad to fly back from Israel with a medal – having beaten the much-fancied reigning Pan-Am holders Brazil after extra-time in the bronze medal match.
A gruelling seven games in just 11 days tested the squad to the limit, with injuries to Swead, Myers, Silver and skipper Kleinman limiting them to a squad of just 13 or 14 players for many of the matches. Yet there was a togetherness about the squad which saw them fight for each other and ensure a medal match was their reward for their first week’s endeavours.
Having struck the woodwork three times before falling behind to an absolute stunner, GB may well have thought it wouldn’t be their day as they opened up against the USA. But they weren’t to be denied as Lenchner grabbed an equaliser, before Linger snatched a deserved late winner.
Following a two-day break they then faced 4 matches in consecutive days. Things started poorly for them when a goalkeeping error saw them gift Brazil an opening goal. Lenchner powered home a towering header to level things up and that’s how it stayed until five minutes from time. Linger had a great chance to win the game but stumbled when clean through, and for this GB were made to doubly suffer as another poor choice at the back gave Brazil the chance to launch a long throw from which they snatched a winner.
Israel followed the next morning. Unquestionably a top side, it was a shame that some poor officiating gave GB reason to feel hard done by. A goal scored despite the ball being a yard out of play and then when hacked down in the area for a clear penalty and sending off GB were horrified when the impressive Lenchner was cautioned for a dive! That left GB needing to get back on track, but this they did with convincing 3-0 wins against the surprise package Chile and then Mexico. Silver, Kaye and Astaire with the goals in the first game, a 15 -second half Linger hat-trick doing the damage in the latter.
With cautions adding up and a medal game now assured, GB rested those not 100 percent fit or on a booking. They did well again against the fancied 22-man Argentinean squad, who themselves needed a result, which they got, to take a final place.
And so, a medal match followed as game 7 Vs Brazil, with GB keen to avenge the defeat suffered in the group stage and take a medal home as reward for all their efforts. Other than poor Jon Swead who just hadn’t recovered, all others declared themselves happy to risk injury and take to the field. GB started brightly and put in a performance that typified the togetherness within the group. Excelling from the off they took the game to their illustrious opponents, but after half an hour of dominance they had been unable to find a breakthrough as Lenchner and Linger both headed inches wide, before Lazarus crashed a diving header off the bar, the ninth time the woodwork had saved an opponent. A fine Brazil break saw a cross to the far post. Here Schweiger seemed to be fouled, but the referee allowed play to continue, the number 10’s finish was of the highest order.
GB pressed again in the second half. A brilliant save from Myers’ header and then the post again coming to Brazil’s rescue, but the weight of pressure finally told as Adam Kaye stooped to nod home the equaliser. The Brazilians upped their games, but defensively GB remained rock solid. Schweiger, Newman, Brill and Kleinman all supporting the outstanding centre-backs Myers and Stewart, the game now headed for extra time. GB came again, and after testing the keeper with a fine effort, Lenchner, following great work between Newman, Linger and the Schwarz brothers, rose superbly to head home his third goal of the tournament and what was to prove the winner. The final whistle was met with scenes of great joy as a fantastic squad bowed out as winners.
Relecting post-match, Jacobs reflected: “This really was an exceptional group of men. To a man they understood this was a squad game and fought for each other on the pitch in the same way they laughed together off it. To manage them was an honour, to lead them to a medal is an indescribable feeling. To match the best ever achievement of a Masters35’s side – simply Jamie and I could not be prouder”.
A two-day celebration followed, at some point during which Paul Linger was recognised as the top goal scorer. Paul Lenchner was crowned Player’s Player for his three goals, non-stop work and top quality banter, while the Manager’s Player went to defensive lynchpin and all-rounder Mark Stewart.
A true Maccabiah experience.