Pharmasave crowned ‘Ball Blast’ champions

There’s an old sports adage that states “defence wins championships.”
Well, local soccer team Pharmasave is the latest in a long line of examples proving the veracity of that statement.
Pharmasave allowed just four goals in four games, including none in their 2-0 win over Thunder Bay’s Tony and Adam’s team in Sunday’s final—en route to capturing the men’s division title of the Borderland Soccer League’s annual “Ball Blast” tournament over the weekend here.
Defensive midfielder Kai Winkler cited the familiarity of each of the team’s defenders with one another as the main reason Pharmasave was able to hold the opposition’s strikers in check.
“The main five guys played together all 16 games of the [Borderland Soccer League] season so we know each other and how we play,” Winkler said.
“We were better on defence [throughout the tournament] than we were offensively.”
In no game was Pharmasave’s defensive prowess more apparent than in the final against a strong Tony and Adam’s side from Thunder Bay.
In an ironic twist of fate, the normally defensive-minded Winkler got his team off to a strong start offensively when he found himself on a partial breakaway down the left side of the pitch just minutes into the opening half.
Winkler made the most of the opportunity, beating Tony and Adam’s keeper Erik Sereda with a low shot into the corner of the net for the game’s opening goal.
“You can’t overstate the importance of that goal,” Winkler said after the game. “We scored first in every game except the one we lost.
“It gave us a lot of confidence,” he added.
The early lead allowed the home side to commit themselves entirely to the defensive aspect of the game—a task they performed with both skill and tenacity.
Tony and Adam’s struggled to penetrate the Pharmasave box and was unable to generate any quality scoring chances.
“We couldn’t break through their back four,” Tony and Adam’s coach Rob Pasqualino said after the game. “I switched the system around a few times and we couldn’t break it.
“That’s just the way it goes somedays.”
As Pharmasave rebuffed each of Tony and Adam’s offensive forays, the tension mounted among the visiting players and it wasn’t long until they began to criticize each another.
“They got mad at each other and frustrated,” Winkler said of the opposition’s demeanour on the field throughout the game.
As the referee blew the half-time whistle, Pharmasave had the game well in control despite the fact they only held a one-goal advantage.
And the home side looked eager to duplicate the success they had enjoyed in the opening minutes of the first half as play resumed. Striker Olaf Ruppenstein narrowly missed a goal after hitting a quality strike off of the far post.
The near miss signalled the beginning of a long stretch of Pharmasave dominance as they pinned Tony and Adam’s in their end, controlling the ball with smart passes.
Pharmasave eventually capitalized on their pressure with 20 minutes to play. And once again it was Ruppenstein providing the offence as he took a smart pass just to the right of the opposition’s goal.
Pausing momentarily to ensure a quality shot, Ruppenstein found the top right-hand corner of the goal just past the outstretched fingers of Sereda for a 2-0 lead.
The insurance goal tallied, Pharmasave sat back in their familiar defensive posture, withstood a late Tony and Adam charge, and claimed the championship.
It was a sweet victory for many of the veteran Pharmasave players who have struggled in tournament play in years past.
“The last two years there were more teams and we didn’t make it out of the pool, although we had high aspirations,” Winkler recalled.
“This year, we loaded up with some quality players and from the beginning Friday when we beat Domino’s, it felt like we could accomplish something,” he added.
“It felt great [to take the championship].”
Pharmasave began their march towards the championship Friday night with a 3-1 win over Domino’s (Fort Frances) in the opening match of round-robin play.
The squad then split their two remaining pool games—beating Dryden United 1-0 before losing to Tony and Adam’s 2-0.
Pharmasave earned themselves $750 as the men’s champs while Tony and Adam’s took home $450 as the runner-up.
Dryden United pocketed $250 courtesy of a 3-0 victory over Domino’s in the third-place game.