All games will be played at Ramp Playground (3300-40 Solly Avenue).
Saturday, August 25
#14 Ireland vs. #20 England
Both teams qualified for the play-in round after losing their third group stage match. During the final weekend of the group stage, Ireland fell short to El Salvador in Group K while England dropped their finale to Ghana in Group G. As luck would have it, they both matched up against top 6 teams in the tournament in those matches.
As far as game play, it is the veteran group of Irish playing in their third season of knockout games in the Unity Cup. England has not been here before, so they are getting their first taste of the Unity Cup post-season. Expect experience to win out in this one, with Ireland moving on.
#11 Jamaica vs. #23 Cameroon
Jamaica entered the tournament as one of the favorites this year after their third place finish a year ago. Things were looking great for a top-6 seed and some time off, but the rain and Morocco came to Germantown and put out the Jamaican fire, dropping them to the #11 seed.
For Cameroon, this season has been a complete turnaround. After struggling the entire tournament last year, Coach Lionel put together a team that would make Joel Embid proud. Even after they were tied by Venezuela in the final minutes and couldn’t hang with Brazil, they manage to secure a knock-out spot thanks to the unique Unity Cup tie break rules.
On paper, Jamaica is the better team throughout; on the field their speed could prove too much for Cameroon to keep up with. Look for Jamaica to come out on top in this match.
#7 Sierra Leone vs. #26 South Africa
For Sierra Leone, it was business as usual during the group stages as they went undefeated in their group for the third consecutive year and narrowly missed a top-6 seed. South Africa hung on for dear life in their final group stage match for a draw with Spain, sending them into the play-in games as the final seeded team.
Going on past experience, Sierra Leone should run away with this one. But don’t count South Africa out so quickly– they are battle-tested, playing the likes of Liberia (twice in two years) and Serbia. Both teams are experienced, and this has potential to be the game of the weekend. In the end, don’t be surprised by extra periods or even a shootout, where anything can happen.
#10 Ivory Coast vs. #22 Greece
Much like Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast cruised through the group stage and secured one of the higher seeds outside of the top-6. Greece saved their best game for last– they defeated Thailand in a must-win game for both teams, advancing to the play-in round.
The contrast in styles will be fun to watch in this one, as Ivory Coast will likely get up and down the field on Greece, while Greece will try to deploy some ball control to keep Ivory Coast at bay.
In the end, Ivory Coast has too much speed and depth for Greece to keep up with, so Ivory Coast will move on.
#13 Mali vs. #18 Ukraine
Mali comes in as the Group E winner by virtue of two wins and a draw. Ukraine had a stellar group stage until they ran into Ivory Coast on the final Friday of group play. Ukraine deployed a terrific game plan, but the depth of Ivory Coast overcame them late in the game, which made the final score look worse than it really was. Mali doesn’t have the same depth as Ivory Coast, but they have every bit their speed, which could make it a struggle for Ukraine down the stretch. Ukraine is the experienced team in this one, and they will have the game plan in place to help them move on. The difference maker may be Pavlo Shelever, one of the top goalkeepers in the tournament.
This is shaping up to be a Ukraine upset, especially if it gets to penalty kicks.
Sunday, August 26
#9 USA vs. #25 Saudi Arabia
Team USA seemed poised for a top-6 seed and a few weeks off before running into some poor weather, a skeleton lineup, and a hungry DR Congo team last week. Nonetheless, they won their group and get paired against the #25-seeded Saudi Arabia team.
Saudi Arabia looked like world beaters in week 1 after throttling Italy. They came back down to earth in a loss to Nigeria and a draw with Argentina. Keep your eye out for Enzo from Saudi Arabia– he is one of the must-see players of the tournament.
As for game play, as long as the US team shows up with their depth, then Saudi Arabia will have trouble keeping up. Perhaps this game will have a close first half, but the US pulls away in the second half for the win.
#16 Mexico vs. #17 Puerto Rico
If you were going to pick any matchup of the weekend to go to penalty kicks, this might be the one. Both these teams come in as second place group finishers, but both were tested by the top teams in their group.
Puerto Rico has a slight edge, since they made it all the way to the third-place game a year ago. Mexico is hungry to move on. Last year, they lost this match in the play-in round to eventual champs Liberia. Expect both teams to bring a passionate fan base, which will be reflected on the field by their collective teams’ play.
This one is a coin toss and could go either way!
#15 Israel vs. #19 Belize
The first of back-to-back games to feature newcomers into this year’s Unity Cup. In the pre-season, no one expected Belize or Israel to make any noise, but here they both are! Neither team will do anything to stand out particularly, but both are solid all around. Israel has survived a bunch of low-scoring games, and Belize has kept all their opponents in check, especially their week 1 battle with Sierra Leone.
Expect this one to be a defensive struggle, with the slightly stronger Belize offense giving them the advantage to move on.
#12 Guinea vs. #21 Albania
As mentioned before, this match is the second in a row of teams that are new to the tournament. Guinea comes in as a new team that was predicted by many in the African soccer community to make it deep into the tournament. They bring youth and speed, which in this tournament can really help a team advance. Albania has been an interesting team to follow throughout the tournament, since they finished the group stage with a win and two draws.
The key to this game will be Guinea’s patience. If Guinea’s youth becomes impatient and frustrated with the plotting play of Albania, then Albania may be able to pull off the upset. Chances are, coach Maxwell will keep his guys disciplined, and in the end speed will win out and Guinea will move on.
#8 Nigeria vs. #24 Mongolia
If you went strictly with the seeds in this matchup, you’d be terribly mistaken. Mongolia is by no means your typical #24 seed. They were an undefeated group winner a year ago, and in the likely group of death from this season, they managed to move on as the second-place team.
Nigeria had a very strong group showing, going undefeated and only conceding two goals. Both teams have been tested over the last two years, and both teams are ready for this matchup.
As the last game of the weekend, it might turn out to be the most entertaining. Nigeria has made great strides since their early departure last year, but Mongolia is coming in with the momentum of playing their best soccer at the right time. Look for Mongolia to pull the upset and advance.