The first weekend of the group stage of this year’s Unity Cup had it all: frenetic finishes, blowouts, close calls, upsets and more. This weekly column outlines the teams that stand out from a great performance and are on the rise, or fell a little flat and will need some assistance getting back in the hunt.
Winners of the Week
Our first winner of the week is Greece, not only did they score a shutout victory over Chile (6-0), but the benefitted from the draw between Liberia and Guinea (1-1). Greece is in a great spot if they can find a way to upset or draw vs. Liberia and Guinea.
South Korea has to get a ton of credit for the upset special they pulled over Lithuania (6-3). If there were odds on the match, Lithuania would have been a heavy favorite. After South Korea jumped to a 3-0 lead, Lithuania made a 2nd half rally to tie the match 3-3. Luck was on South Korea’s side as a ball off the cross bar was rebounded by a diving header to give them the lead and the win. South Korea cannot rest easy; they’ll have to knock off a tough Brazilian team to make it out of group stage.
For good measure, we can add Ukraine and USA to the winners of the week category, but they handled business as they have over the first 4 years of the tournament, both notching blowout victories. New comers (really returning after time off) like Germany and Belarus dominated as well – both have daunting matches ahead of them (Germany vs. Ivory Coast, Belarus vs. Jamaica), so we’ll see if they stay in the winners column.
Losers of the Week
As alluded to in the winners section, Lithuania came out a played an absolute dud of a 1st half versus South Korea en route to the 6-3 loss. Lithuania came back to the tournament completely rebuilt with the expectation of going deep into the knockout rounds, but as their captain Virgis stated on Sunday, “That’s Soccer!”
Inaugural champion, Ivory Coast (2016), lost their first group stage match since 2016 when they fell 3-2 to Ghana. Ghana managed to overcome a 2-1 deficit in the waning minute of the match and added time to pull off the upset. Ivory Coast will need to knock off a tough Germany team (ironically, the last team to beat them in group) and get some help from the rest of their group if they want to keep their knock out round streak alive.
Although a number of teams were on the wrong end of blowouts this week, there was a group of teams more deserving to be in this week’s loser’s category. Those groups of teams are the ones who attempted to win their first group stage match without a full 11 players to start the game! While some of those teams pulled out victories, others really put themselves in hole and might not make it out of the group stage. All teams should use that a lesson to recruit players who want to participate for the love of city and country so it doesn’t happen in the future.