It says something about your chances going into a tournament of any kind when you’re the only team that doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.
By every metric, Chameria came into the CONIFA Sportsbet.io European Football Cup 2019 as absolute outsiders. One of only two teams never to have played in a CONIFA tournament before, and the only one of those two without the backing of a huge home crowd. In the pre-tournament odds, they were dead last, but they have showed defiance to make the semi-finals.
They even look striking on the pitch – 6’6 striker Marco van Basten (no, not that one) lining up next to his 5’3 attacking shadow Samet Gjoka. Then, in front of 500 people in Askeran, in the 2019 tournament’s first match, they went 1-0 up on Abkhazia through defender Flavio Prendi. The 2016 CONIFA world champions rallied to win 3-1, but the seed had been planted.
“Scoring a goal is the most powerful thing we can do,” van Basten told Sportsbet.io. “It shows the world we’re winners.”
Van Basten, by the way? He’s explained that, too. “My father grew up watching Serie A and was a huge Milan and van Basten fan. His brother, my uncle, was also a fan, and I have a cousin called Frank Rikjaard Çema.”
In the tiny town of Martuni the next day, Chameria defy the odds to become winners in truth. After a cagey first half against the hosts, who had got their own tournament off to a flying start the previous night, van Basten (on the team sheet as ‘Markovanbasten Cema’) put his side in the lead for the second game in a row.
Blow followed blow though, and Chameria saw themselves pegged back to 1-1 and down to 10 men with just five minutes to go – before Mitzi, van Basten and Gjoka scored in a barrage of late pressure to hand the outsiders a shock 4-1 win.
Not content with getting their first CONIFA tournament win, van Basten and co went to Martakert the very next day to convincingly beat a young Sapmi side 4-0 and make their way into the semi-finals as the competition’s highest scoring team.
Coming into the tournament, a single win looked improbable - but for 90 minutes in Askeran, they could dream of the glory of their first European final. In the end, a gritty 0-0 draw with South Ossetia and subsequent 6-5 defeat on penalties saw Cham hearts broken in dramatic fashion.
But after listening to team president Arben Arkaxhiu before the match, the loss didn’t seem so tragic.
Of course, to listen to team president Arben Arkaxhiu tell it, it always was. “We were very well prepared,” he explained ahead of the key semi-final. “We worked very hard, even during the tournament. We studied all the other teams, looking at their strengths. We are very technical, which is a plus compared to most of the other teams. We’re a good offensive team, very good technical striker with some very professional players.
“The team has had a great impact on the Cham people at home, especially with the unexpected results of the team. They are very proud of their national team.”