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With each passing minute and missed scoring opportunity, Madison exuded an odd aura of confidence. Instead of panicking with its season possibly coming to a close – down a goal late in the second half in an opening-round PSAL Class A ‘P’ bracket playoff game against No. 7 New Dorp – the second-seeded Knights’ heads remained held high, their will and skill picking up, owning play even.
“It’s what we talk about all year – just keep going until the final whistle blows,” coach Nick Punzone said after his team beat ND, 3-2. “No stopping until the game is over. Always be able to look yourselves in the mirror and say you gave everything you could.”
Madison, the Brooklyn A West division winners, certainly emptied its tank in the final 12 minutes. Nine minutes from full time, junior Abraham Bravo scored the decisive tally, two minutes after junior Igor Lantsberg netted the equalizer on a perfectly-placed header into the right corner, the Knights’ comeback hitting its crescendo.
“I have no idea how we scored those two goals,” Lantsberg said.
The tallies, Punzone said, were accomplished because of consistent pressure, the result of going to the team’s five-minute drill, a method in practice when they get as many shots on net, seeking the equalizer.
“After 14 years of this in the PSAL,” Punzone said, “I’ve learned some tricks to win a game at the end.”
Over the final 25 minutes of the match, Madison had countless chances, keeping the ball in the New Dorp end the entire way. As the afternoon wore on, sophomore Philip Szumanski’s goal off a well-struck set piece from star junior midfielder Kemal Gurel in the 53rd minute, seemed like it would be the difference.
“We did everything we could to put the ball in the net,” Bravo said.
But then he snuck behind the defense – Gurel said he was offsides by five yards; Punzone admitted to luck on the play – and perfectly met the high ball with his right temple, pinging it beyond the reach of keeper Najib Errachqi, who was brilliant in net. And two minutes later, senior Andriy Sokolov, who had netted the game’s first goal with a pretty volley from a sharp angle by the left side of the penalty area, brushed through two ND’s fullbacks, willing his way through them, not around.
Errachqi made the initial save on his low blast; but Bravo was there to flip it in, grounding the shot between four bodies.
“I had enough strength and confidence in myself to push through,” Sokolov said through an interpreter. “That was the best feeling in the world.”
Added Punzone: “I’m extremely proud. A comeback like this is a great win. I have five more minutes to enjoy it until I have to prepare for the next game. But I’m enjoying it now.”
It was obviously not the same euphoric feeling for New Dorp and Gurel. He was held without a goal after tallying 21 in 14 regular-season matches. Although the Central Cougars finished just 6-5 during the year, that was in Staten Island A, the city’s second toughest division after Manhattan A. And they got the better of the play in the opening half and led late.
“We were unlucky; we did our best to win,” Gurel said, taking the glass half-full approach. “It’s soccer: sometimes you win, sometimes you lost. We played from the heart.”
Madison, meanwhile, will meet No. 3 John Adams, 3-1 winners over No. 6 Robeson, Wednesday in Brooklyn, at its home field. The Knights took the first match, 2-1 in the PSAL Boys Soccer Classic, but each side was shorthanded so it wasn’t an accurate portrayal of what should be expected Wednesday.
Madison couldn’t be going into that showdown with any more confidence, not after its sterling finish. In fact, Lantsberg, looking ahead already, is ready to face the ‘P’ bracket’s – and the city’s – top seed.
“We want Beacon,” he said. “They’re supposed to be the best and we want to play the best.”
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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