Football in slow motion at swamp world cup
HYRYNSALMI, Finland |
HYRYNSALMI, Finland (Reuters) - Mud up to her waist and the yellow wig hanging sideways, swamp-soccer veteran Tuula Brocke reached for the ball just barely a metre in front of her, but her foot would not move an inch.
Playing ball in the swamp is like a slow-motion movie coming to a halt every time a player sinks in a hole, she said.
"Your opponent snatches the ball right in front of your nose, but you are stuck in the mass of dung and cannot move at all," she said, while wiping dried crust of her arms and face.
Brocke's team, the G-Spots, is one of 340 which competed in this year's Swamp Soccer World Championships, held in northern Finland for the 10th time in a row.
Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Russia were among the growing number of foreign teams. Organisers estimate some 10,000 people attended the event each of the three days.
A natural swamp outside the town of Hyrynsalmi was converted into 22 playing fields -- marked with yellow tape, more resembling pig pens than a world cup site.
Each time six players were trotting and crawling through the muddy field. There was no offside, no definite penalty box an unlimited substitutions were made on the fly.
Even so, each team looked for their own tactic to bring the ball forward in this chaotic and largely uncontrolled game.
"We have been training how to walk in the swamp on our fours and to kick from the side -- that's the only way we could move it, when the ground got this soft," Brocke said, adding it was guts and always a bit of luck that decided the better team.
The sport was conceived by Finnish cross-country skiers looking for a way to train during the snowless summer months.
Portuguese Olympic cross-country skier Danny Silva joined one of the teams looking for exactly that kind of exercise.
"You can't run normally, and the swamp makes your legs very heavy -- that boosts your heart rate and it pumps your upper leg strength," he said, adding it was the Finnish training methodology that was the best part of it all.
"Athletes get way too serious when they train -- this is bizarre, but makes training so much more fun."
Shoes and socks were taped with duct tape. Supermen outfits, wigs and men in dresses were common, as were men dragging women through mud and the latter kicking back twice as hard.
The swamp is much cleaner now than when it was still full of tree stumps and branches a decade ago, one player said.
But bruises, cuts and strained muscles were always part of it all, especially when extreme fatigue sets in after playing several games in a row. Not drinking water from the swamp and insurance protection were rules organisers emphasised most.
For most of the team the weekend-long event was a fun mud bonanza for as long as the midnight sun shone. Winning the trophy in the men's, women's, mixed or hobby category was secondary, at least for most.
When Anatoly Korchagin on the Russian team Sputnik head-shot the deciding 1:0 goal against Finland and snapped the golden trophy from its neighbour for the second time in a row, it was as calculated and serious as football gets in the real world.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Jon Boyle)
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