COSMOS COPA QUARTERFINALS PREVIEW
As last year’s runners up, NYC Senegal’s second place finish in Group B was surprising. Even more surprising, they only managed to collect five points after meager draws against NYC Ireland and NYC Greece in their first two matches. Colombia, on the other hand, performed above expectations as they qualified for the quarterfinals as group winners with seven points and an impressive win over an NYC Italy side that had failed to concede a goal in the qualifying round. However, despite Colombia’s successful start to Cosmos Copa, many will look for Senegal to come out on top in this fascinating quarterfinal clash.
Although Senegal failed to find the back of the net as often as they would have liked last weekend, there was a recurring theme in each game they played; they dominated possession. In its matches against Ireland and Greece, Senegal should have found the back on a number of occasions however a lack of focus in the final third was the reason the African side failed to score. If star striker and UCONN stadnout Mamadou Doudou Diouf and the rest of the Senegal attack display the clinical finishing that they put on display during the second half against NYC Ivory Coast in their 3-0 win, they shouldn’t have a problem converting their chances against Colombia.
Even though Senegal look set to dominate possession come Saturday, Colombia are a more effective offensive side when their opponent pushes men up the field as they are one of the best counter attacking sides at Cosmos Copa. Their speed on the flanks along with the intelligent movement of their strikers, the Turizo brothers will make them a serious threat when they dispose Senegal in their own defensive third and jumpstart an attack up field.
This match will sure to please soccer purists as tactical patience will be key for both teams as they look to book a place in this Sunday’s semi-final.
In one of the most highly anticipated Cosmos Copa matches in years, the two time defending champions, NYC Poland are coming up against the upstart NYC USA.
What is there to say about this Polish team that hasn’t already been said? This team has been a force of nature in Cosmos Copa, brushing aside everything this tournament has thrown at them for the last two years with relative ease. In 2012, it seems to be more of the same. In fact, Poland actually bettered their previous efforts by topping their group for the first time. The scary part for the rest of the competition is that the same core of players that lifted the trophy in 2010 and 2011 excelled in the group stages and they seem to be picking up right where they left off.
The star player is undoubtedly the smooth two way midfielder, Teddy Niziolek. Last year’s Golden Ball winner scored two goals in the group stages and his vision and passing ability is as good as any player at Cosmos Copa. However the reason that this Polish side is so successful is their incredible organization at the back and that begins with Niziolek who can also shield his backline along with getting goals. The leader in the backline is normally the reliable right back Lukasz Bielen but Bielen will be missing from this quarterfinal matchup due to an unnecessary red card he picked up in Poland’s last Group Stage match against Uruguay. Due to Bielen’s suspension, Niziolek will probably be asked to handle additional defensive duties. That means the attacking burden will fall to Lukasz Hausner and the returning Christopher Karcz. The 2010 tournament top scorer and MVP, Karcz is making his way back from a knee injury and although he didn’t get on the scoresheet in the Group Stages, he improved from game to game. If Karcz and Hausner are firing on all cylinders up front with Niziolek bossing the midfield behind them, then it’s difficult to see anyone knocking NYC Poland off their perch.
NYC USA is the team standing in Poland’s path to the Semifinals. Team president Pat White has put together an exciting attacking American team that has charmed many neutral observers at this year’s tournament. Chris Bayon, who bagged six goals in qualifying, and Patrick Herman, who added five goals in the Group Stages to the five he scored in qualifying, lead this team from the front. Bayon is a tall playmaker who can create opportunities for his teammates and also score goals. While Herman is a compact barrel chested bruiser who uses his electric burst of pace to get past opposing defenders and finish powerfully. In reserve, the Americans also have Kyle Clancy who also boasts great speed but tends to drift wide in order to make space for his teammates.
Although the American’s attack is as lethal as any team in the tournament, if they hope to get past this ruthless Polish team, they are going to have to tighten up at the back. The classy Scottish born central defender, John Nunez, who boasts a delightful left footed delivery, leads the Americans at the back. However Nunez needs help back there and the five goals the Yanks conceded in the Group Stages is a testament to that. In particular, the Americans missed the calming influence of Brian Kuritzky at the Group Stages. It is unclear whether these reinforcements will arrive as NYC USA is set to be shorthanded once again in the Quarterfinals. Do they have enough to get past the imperious NYC Poland?
Out of all the quarterfinal teams set to take the field on Saturday, NYC Bolivia has the most to prove. After getting out of the Qualifying Tournament after a dramatic injury time goal, they managed to advance to the quarterfinals by scoring just one goal in a 1-0 win over NYC Argentina and recording scoreless draws against NYC Italy and NYC Colombia. NYC Greece, although not offensive juggernauts themselves, proved that they are ready for the treacheries of the knockout round in their dramatic 2-1 win over Ireland that sent them through to the quarterfinals.
Greece is a well-organized team who will look to exploit any defensive mishaps along the Bolivian back line. During their group stage matches, the Greeks were proficient at spreading the field and making the opposition chase the ball. In attack they are led by the rangy Stefan Dimitrov and the classy Chris Megaloudis, while at the back, the pitbull-like captain Billy Antoniou cleans up anything that comes his way. The Greek's possesion strategy may face its match on Saturday because Bolivia is a side that is infused with energy and pace that have found success pestering their opponents when on the ball. It will be interesting to see how the vigor of the Bolivians matches up with the resolve of the Greeks.
Despite all of this, the biggest question that will be answered come Saturday is if Bolivia are ready to truly chase after a game and have enough attacking merit to squeeze out a victory rather than just play for a draw. The Greeks proved they are more than capable of handling adversity in their last minute victory over Ireland, time will only tell if Bolivia is ready to do the same.
Cosmos Copa will be injected with some Caribbean panache when NYC Haiti and NYC Jamaica face off in a highly anticipated quarterfinal match on Saturday. Both teams will look to attack early and often as they hope to prolong their offensive exploits from the group stages that saw them both notch six goals in three matches.
Similar to three other quarterfinalists, both Haiti and Jamaica made appearances at this stage of last year’s competition. However, both Caribbean sides failed to advance to the semi-finals. With last year’s heartbreak still on the minds of players and coaches, this match-up will likely be one of the most tightly contested.
Considering the intensity and offensive flair that will sure to be on display, one should expect this match to produce one of the most open and end-to-end games in recent Cosmos Copa history. Despite the fact that Jamaica only allowed two goals in their three groups stage matches while Haiti allowed three, they were both eager to push their full backs into attack, leaving their two central defenders vulnerable to the counter attack. Considering this, the team that finds a way to successfully push men forward, yet keep a solid defensive shape, will likely come out on top.
However, staying defensively disciplined will be easier said than done as Jamaica have a playmaker on their side in Jefferson Hinds who can exploit even the most experienced defenses with his well calculated passes and ability to hold the ball in midfield. Not to be outdone, Haiti has a striker in Yvener Guerrier who’s capable of scoring whenever the ball is at his feet. He will prove to be a difficult man for the Jamaica backline to manage.
So, once match day arrives, Haiti and Jamaica will likely have to cope with conceding a few goals as their tactical philosophies suit each other’s game plans. Haiti may just have the upper hand tactically as Jamaica's usual manager, Coach Swaby will be away and 2003 MLS Rookie of the Year, Damani Ralph will be filling in for him. Nevertheless, the team who can find a way to make a crucial defensive stop in a trying moment will be the team that advances to the semi-finals and keep their dreams of Cosmos Copa glory alive.
Proposed Semifinal and Final Schedule: