Winners: Vietnam and South Korea

Who would have guessed Vietnam would be on a two-game Unity Cup win streak? Even more unlikely, they have knocked off consecutive African nations (Kenya and Togo). Team Vietnam has grown every year, and the commitment to soccer in not just the Vietnamese, but entire Asian community, is paying dividends. They still have a tough road ahead with Panama and Brazil in their group, but even a draw in either of those matches could propel Vietnam into the knock-out round.

Only once in three years had South Korea knocked off an African team (Nigeria 2016), but they managed to do it again versus Ethiopia this past weekend. In the past, their group wins have come when it is too late, but with an opening match victory, they now control their own destiny. They will need to pull one more upset over either Mexico or Nigeria to advance. The way these two opened the season, the other teams in their group should not take them lightly!

Losers: Mexico and Puerto Rico

Mexico managed to watch a 2-0 lead dissipate in the final nine minutes against a Nigeria team they had dead to rights. Granted, the draw may not hurt them when it comes to advancing, but it could cost them a few seed lines when the knock-out rounds begin in September. For a team with high hopes before the tournament began, they might have a tough road if they make it out of the group stage.

Since their appearance in the third place game two years ago, Puerto Rico is now 2-2 in their last four games, with one win coming over Bhutan in last year’s group stage. To state that Puerto Rico is leaking oil would be an understatement! Coach Danny needs to get his troops back on track ASAP, or they’ll be watching the knock-out rounds from the sidelines for the first time in their four years in the tournament.

Winners: Middle Eastern Newcomers

Huge congratulations to new teams Iran and Palestine. Iran easily zipped past a perennially tough South African team, while Palestine scratched and clawed to sneak out a victory over Lithuania. Iran looked young and hungry as their quickness caught South Africa by surprise, and they were easily able to come through with a victory. Palestine had a bit of luck on their side, but they should not be discredited as they came from behind to knock off an always tough Lithuanian team. Of the two, Iran has a bit of an easier draw (Palestine has to play Ivory Coast), but then again, so does any group without Liberia or Ivory Coast in it!

Losers: Teams that can’t keep their cool

These teams have become consistent losers in this recurring blog post year-to-year. The countries may change, but the theme remains the same: if you can’t behave, you can’t win! Any team that doesn’t understand the concept of fair play, sportsmanship, and the spirit of the tournament by getting consistent cards and ejections will suffer. If you look at the teams at the top of the rankings every year, you will find teams with a ton of talent (Liberia, USA, Ivory Coast, Ireland), but you will also find teams that stay disciplined with cards and behavior (Ghana, Sierra Leone, Ukraine), which enables them to keep their top players on the field and consistently advance. Until teams learn how to keep their cool, these teams will be consistent losers in the weeks to come.