QUALIFYING WEEKEND: PLAYOFF SUNDAY RECAP
Cosmos Copa Qualifying Weekend Recap: Playoff Sunday June 19th, 2011
Trinidad & Tobago 2-2 Kosovo (T&T win 4-3 on penalties): Trinidad and Tobago grabbed an opening win on Playoff Sunday in a very even match from beginning to end. T&T opened the scoring with a well-taken goal in the opening 5 minutes. Kosovo, disciplined and methodical, worked hard to net an equalizer just before halftime. Kosovo came out gunning in the second half with several great chances, including a rocket of a shot that hit the post. They eventually got their goal off a rebound from a save by the Trinidadian keeper. Kosovo’s work rate was tremendous, but it eventually conceded a late goal to send the match to penalties. T&T came out victorious in the shootout by a shootout score of 4-3.
Ivory Coast 0-0 St Vincent and Grenadines (Ivory Coast win 5-4 on penalties): Due to some late arrivals, Les Elephants were forced to start the first twenty minutes of the match with only eight men. Despite the apparent three-man advantage, St. Vincent and the Grenadines could not capitalize, as the Ivory Coast defense remained solid. Once the Ivory Coast had eleven on the pitch, both teams canceled each other out. The two teams' defenses prevailed, until the Ivory Coast went down to ten men due to a straight red card for violent conduct. The Ivory Coast defense was able to hold off the “Vinci Wave” once again, and the match went to penalties. Both teams put away their first four penalties, and then the Ivory Coast goalkeeper came up huge on the fifth to give his side the win.
Ivory Coast 0-0 Croatia (Ivory Coast win 5-4 penalties): Despite playing back-to-back matches, the Ivory Coast was able to compete with Croatia and played out another scoreless game. Fifteen minutes into the match, the Ivory Coast received its second red card of the day and had to collect itself. In the end, both sides couldn’t break the deadlock and penalties were the deciding factor once more. The Ivory Coast kept its perfect record on penalties, and Croatia’s single penalty that hit off the post was the difference on the day.
Kosovo 2-1 USA: Kosovo’s excellent work rate prevailed once again as it dispatched the United States 2-1. After a scoreless first half, Kosovo rallied and scored two goals in quick succession. United States started playing with a great deal of desperation. It paid off, as the USA earned a penalty kick after a rash challenge in the box. It was subsequently converted, and the match finished at 2-1 in favor of Kosovo, setting up a do or die third group match between the United States and Trinidad & Tobago.
USA 2-2 Trinidad and Tobago (USA 5-3 won on penalties): Not only was this a must win match for the United States, but the score line was important as well. The first tiebreaker in the group would be goal differential. USA certainly came out firing, scoring in the opening minute of the game and then grabbing a second goal five minutes later. Trinidad & Tobago regrouped after halftime and got a goal quickly in the second half. After battling the rest of the half, T&T equalized in the final minute of the match thanks to a scorcher from 25 yards out that found the bottom corner of the net. Regulation ended with both teams tied 2-2. The United States won in penalties to leave each team in the group tied on 3 points apiece. Kosovo (+1) and T&T (0) advanced on goal differential, while the United States (-1) did not advance.
Croatia 2-1 St. Vincent and the Grenadines: In the first do-or-die match of Cosmos Copa’s Playoff Sunday, Croatia scored a late goal to put the European side through at the expense of the plucky Caribbean side. Both teams had previously lost to Ivory Coast. So the winner of this match would join the Ivory Coast squad in the next stage. The two teams traded goals in the first half, and they continued their even play in the second. The “Vinci Wave” was dominant in possession, while Croatia used its quick passing and movement to try and score on the counter attack. Croatia nicked the winner late in the match to send the Croatians into raptures and the St. Vincent and the Grenadines home.
Colombia 4-0 Italy: The pace and intelligent passing from the Colombians proved to be too much for the well organized Italians in this one-sided match. After falling behind by two goals in the first half, Italy reorganized and looked as if it was going to come back into the match. They grabbed a lifeline when they won a penalty. Nothing seemed to be going right this match for the Azzurri as Colombia's keeper guessed the right way and made an excellent save. Colombia created two more goals before the final whistle by gracefully gliding past the Italian defense. This is a match that Italy will want to soon forget.
Colombia 2-1 Portugal: After thrashing Italy, no one really expected Portugal to put up a decent fight against Colombia, but they were absolutely a joy to watch. Colombia looked slightly fatigued from its first match, so the Portuguese came out sprinting and did not stop piling on the pressure. Portugal may have had a case for a penalty in the first half, but the ref waved play on. Then, just minutes later Colombia earned a penalty, after a clear handball in the box. The Colombians put their spot kick away nicely to go 1-nil up. However, Portugal wouldn't go down that easily and its hard work paid off with an equalizer minutes before halftime. In the second half both sides played quality, end-to-end soccer. The two teams created loads of chances and perhaps neither team deserved to lose in regulation, but Colombia had other plans. With five minutes left, Colombia put together a stunning stream of passes that ended with an ice cold chipped finish that sealed the win for the South Americans.
Italy 3-1 Portugal: The final match of the day in group 4 was a 'win or go home situation.' Thankfully, both teams chose to play with a positive, attack-minded mentality from start to finish. Italy was an entirely new team after they had three new skillful players join up with the squad. The Italians started strong and received a stroke of luck on their first goal, but it was Portugal once again displaying its resilience to find a way to get past the much-improved Italian defense. Two minutes before the break, Italy slotted home a well-placed shot to the far post and the half finished 2-1 in Italy's favor. Once play resumed, Portugal were tried everything in their power to find an equalizer, but it just wasn't to be as Italy increased their lead to 3-1 and the Azzuri never looked back.
Senegal 4-0 France: In a dominating performance, Senegal was able to best France by an impressive 4-0 score line. Senegal was superior to France in just about every facet of the game. They were quicker, stronger, more composed, and played better as a unit while France struggled to cope with the injuries and fatigue of Qualifying Weekend. Senegal jumped out to an early 2-0 lead against the French. Senegal dominated possession in midfield for much of the game and was also able to play some impressive combination sequences, which they eventually turned into goals. 10 minutes into the second half, Senegal grabbed a third goal that completely deflated the French side. A fourth goal wrapped things up, and the Senegalese team coasted to a comfortable victory.
El Salvador 2-1 France: After a disappointing performance against Senegal, France found their legs against El Salvador, but it was not able to overturn two first half goals. While the first half was very even, France switched off mentally about halfway through the opening period, allowing two goals in very quick succession to El Salvador. France rallied in the second half, pulling one back through a glancing header from a wide free kick. France continued to knock on the door and even had a penalty shout late in the game, but the referee did not give it and the match finished 2-1 in favor of El Salvador. Give credit to the French side though. It looked deflated and tired after its loss to Senegal. After going down 2-0 in the first half of this match, the French could have easily packed it in. Instead, they plugged away, grabbed a goal, and worked hard for more chances. France can hold their heads high after this great team effort, but El Salvador moved on.
Senegal 2-0 El Salvador: With their defeat of France, both Senegal and El Salvador had already qualified for the group stages prior to this match. Both teams recognized they were qualified, and opted to rest some players after a long (and hot) weekend. Senegal scored very early from a well-worked goal. They stayed on the offensive and pressed to get an additional goal, which eventually came just before halftime. The second half was largely uneventful. While virtually every Cosmos Copa match over qualifying weekend was extremely intense, it was refreshing to see these two teams play in what was essentially a friendly match.