The fourth INAS-FID World Cup for Persons with Intellectual Disability ended in dramatic fashion when Saudi Arabia sealed a first-ever world crown with a 5-4 penalty shoot-out victory over the Netherlands.
The cliff-hanger of a final had earlier finished 4-4 in normal and extra time and the Saudis succeed England after eliminating the holders in the quarter-finals.
A 15,000 crowd at the BayArena in Leverkusen saw the finalists share no fewer than eight goals in normal time. The undoubted star of the match was Saudi striker Kasser, whose prolific four-goal tally enabled the team coached by Abdulaziz Alkhalid to recover twice from a two-goal deficit.
Neither side found the target in extra-time and the match went to penalties. The Saudis converted all five of their spot-kicks, but Netherlands goal-getter Dennies Mankwah, who had earlier fired a brace in the opening 90 minutes, saw his effort saved by keeper Abduhllah Asiri.
The sides had previously met at the group stage with the eventual champions winning 4-2, but the Saudis subsequently lost 2-0 to Poland and finished second in the standings behind the Dutch on goal difference.
Third place for hosts
The Saudis overcame South Africa in the semi-finals, while the Netherlands reached the final by knocking out Germany. The hosts still finished the tournament on a high after emulating their senior professional counterparts at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and claiming third place with a 4-0 victory over South Africa in Essen.
"It was important to finish on a positive note. We're very satisfied and delighted," Germany coach Willi Breuer commented, as his men basked in a euphoric reception from the crowd after the final whistle. The fans unveiled a banner reading 'Thanks for a wonderful time' as the home team performed several laps of honour.
Another man having a wonderful time at the fourth INAS-FID World Cup 2006 for Persons with Intellectual Disability was former Bundesliga coach Christoph Daum. After a spell in the top job with Fenerbahce in Istanbul, Daum supported Breuer during the tournament as a motivational coach, and he gave an entirely positive summary of the experience.
"This has proved that people with learning disabilities are fully capable of tremendous performances. It was a top-quality tournament," he reflected.
Head coach Breuer was equally enthusiastic. "It's been a fantastic tournament," he enthused. "We've set extremely high standards here in Germany. The supporters' reaction to our team has been sensational, and the stadiums were full. A big thank you to my team and my fellow coaches. We'd been hoping to go all the way, but winning our last match is a huge success. The whole World Cup has been an overwhelming experience."
Goals galore and capacity crowds
Organisers rated the finals as a success in every respect. The 48 matches at 41 venues offered high-class sporting action and were watched by some 280,000 spectators.
The extraordinary atmosphere also provided some consolation to the South Africans following their third-place play-off defeat. "I'm really impressed with the event and the passion shown by the local people," declared starlet Mzolisi Bakheni, a sentiment echoed by coach Kebi Legodi.
"We've enjoyed a fantastic atmosphere, superb organisation and excellent accommodation here in Germany," she enthused. "I'm extremely happy about the way we were so positively received."
The players, whose IQ cannot exceed 75 according to regulations laid down by world governing body INAS-FID, turned in impressive displays across a full three-week period, sparking a positive response from the public.
"We're quite simply overwhelmed by the level of interest," confessed Ralf Kuckuck, Managing Director of the Duisburg World Cup office.
"People with and without learning disabilities joined forces to celebrate a magnificent festival of football, creating an unforgettable atmosphere at the stadiums and ensuring the event achieved its most important aims, to awaken interest, increase understanding, drive integration and promote active citizenship," he added.