By Ben Tetelman

Group D will be the “Group of Death” in this year’s group stage. The group will feature a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal as well as a match between two former tournament champions. By the end of this weekend, two teams from each of the four groups will move on to the quarterfinals.
NYC France:
2013 was a sweet year for NYC France, as they captured their first ever Cosmos Copa championship with a dramatic victory over NYC Senegal in penalty kicks.
With a bye into the group stage of the 2014 tournament, NYC France will look to capture back-to-back championships, something only NYC Poland has done in the history of Cosmos Copa.
Although Les Bleus of NYC will enter what is surely the “Group of Death”, the return of a number of key players will heighten their hopes of topping Group D.
Fabien Desgroux, who was voted the most valuable player of the 2013 Copa, will once again take the pitch with NYC France, along with a number of other players from last year’s championship team.
NYC France will take on their European rivals NYC Italy in the first game of Group D. Both sides are more than familiar with each other’s style of play after an epic quarterfinal battle in 2013.
Matched up with NYC Italy again in 2014, it will be interesting to see if NYC France skipper Zohair Ghenania will make any tactical changes.
NYC Italy:
Coming off their deepest run in history, NYC Italy will look at the 2014 tournament as an opportunity to further establish themselves as a Copa powerhouse.
Presidents Fabrizio Carrer and Francesco Bardazzi may not be thrilled about drawing the “Group of Death”, but they will be plenty motivated to compete against NYC France in the group stage.
NYC Italy’s historic run in 2013 was cut short by a defeat to NYC France in the quarterfinal stage. With a chance at redemption against the defending Copa champions, NYC Italy will hope to be sitting atop Group D at the conclusion of this weekend’s games.
NYC Italy will be matched up against their rivals in the first game of the group stage this Saturday, July 19 at Pier 40 in Manhattan.
NYC Afghanistan:
After overcoming a difficult qualifying group in dramatic fashion, NYC Afghanistan will yet again be faced with some Goliath challenges.
Drawn into the “Group of Death” with defending champions NYC France, inaugural Champions NYC Albania and 2013 quarterfinalist NYC Italy, NYC Afghanistan have a long road ahead of them.
When asked about his reaction to the draw, NYC Afghanistan president Waheed Khosdal responded with optimism.
“I felt a sense of challenge,” he said. “I believe we had a tough group in the qualifying round and we prevailed. We will take this as just another challenge that we have to overcome on our way to the championship game.”
NYC Afghanistan will be lead by Mohammad Yusef Mashriqi, who has already found the back of the net twice in the tournament.
Mashriqi’s story of arrival is truly remarkable. A first generation Afghan, Mashriqi came to the United States in 1987 when his father Tahir, who played for the Afghan National Team, brought the family to Flushing.
Mashriqi showed great promise as a young footballer, playing with the famed Blau Weiss Gottschee club. After a stellar youth career, Mashriqi attended Long Island University, where he played four years of Division I collegiate soccer.
Originally a member of the United States youth national team, Mashriqi switched his international allegiance in honor of his father in 2010. Since the change, he has made senior appearances for the Afghan National team, even playing in both of Afghanistan’s games during the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying rounds.
NYC Afghanistan will face off against NYC Albania on Saturday at Pier 40 in Manhattan.
NYC Albania:
It has been a tough road back since NYC Albania held the Copa championship. Since their historic run in 2009, NYC Albania has failed to reach the knockout stages of the tournament.
This year might be different. NYC Albania dominated their qualifying group, netting eleven goals and conceding just once.
Bljerdi Bardic scored three times in qualifying, putting him second in the race for the golden boot.
Scoring goals has been the least of NYC Albania’s problems, but with strong teams entering the competition, will the points continue to flow for Albania? Or will their undefeated streak in 2014 come to an end?
For more information on game times or location, please visit