Saturday, September 8
All games will be played at Ramp Playground (3300-40 Solly Avenue)
#10 Ivory Coast vs. #7 Sierra Leone at 1 p.m.
These two teams are no strangers! Not only are they connected through their ties in Southwest Philly, but also through past history in the Unity Cup. In 2016, Ivory Coast knocked off Sierra Leone and continued on to become the first-ever Unity Cup champion. In 2017, Sierra Leone outlasted Ivory Coast in a scoreless tie through regulation and overtime, eventually securing the win on penalty kicks, and went on to become the tournament runner-up.
As for 2018, expect more of the same. The soccer will be crisp and clean. As Coach Foday of Sierra Leone says, “When it looks like we’re fighting, it’s just like two brothers in the backyard.” Expect that type of game: good soccer, emotional, a little rough, and maybe a one-goal difference or even another round of penalty kicks!
#19 Belize vs. #2 Serbia at 3 p.m.
After finishing 2017 with a 3-0 mark in the group stage, Serbia was shockingly knocked out of the tournament by Senegal. This year, Serbia is looking to learn from their mistakes and not take Belize lightly.
Belize is a newcomer to the tournament this year, but they haven’t looked it. In their first group stage match, they played Sierra Leone extremely well but fell short. After that, they won two in a row, including an impressive win over Lithuania to punch their ticket into the knockout rounds.
The key to this game will be the ability to penetrate the opponent’s defense. Neither one of these teams likes to give up goals (Serbia had zero goals scored against them in the group stage), and it could be that the first team to score wins it. Add to the mix the difference in style, and this should prove to be an entertaining match.
#12 Guinea vs. #5 Liberia at 5 p.m.
Newbie vs. veterans, young vs. old, little brother vs. big brother… these are all comparisons to use when describing this matchup. Everyone knows Liberia, one of the most talented teams in the tournament, with back-to-back trips to the title game and a championship in years past. Not so much was known about Guinea before this tournament began: they represent everything Liberia was a few years back.
Guinea is the soccer version of the “young guns” because they are fast, brash, and at times, undisciplined. The lack of discipline may affect Guinea this weekend, as they will be playing without 3 of their suspended players.
But as we saw last year, Liberia is not invincible. Guinea will need to take advantage of their speed on the outside and be able to contain their emotions if they want to pull off the upset.
Chances are, Guinea is still a year or two away from knocking big brother off his perch, and Liberia will advance.
#16 Mexico vs. #4 El Salvador at 7 p.m.
This could very well be the match of the weekend. El Salvador ended the group stage with a perfect record and only allowing one goal. Mexico got off to a rough start and lost to Honduras on kick-off night, but this team is completely different in the way they have played since that evening.
Both teams boast quick front lines, strong mid-fields, solid defenders, and goalkeepers. The key to this match will be which team can limit their mistakes and capitalize on their opponent’s miscues. Both teams were tested by Group I, so the magnitude of the game shouldn’t get to them. The match is about as even as it gets.
Stay tuned for the Sunday games Round of 16 preview!
Sunday, September 9
All games will be played at Ramp Playground (3300-40 Solly Avenue)
#18 Ukraine vs. #1 Brazil at 1 p.m.
The Unity Cup sure loves a rematch! Ukraine and Brazil battled it out back on kickoff night in 2017. It was close for a majority of the game, but unfortunately Ukraine took a bad red card in the second half and lost some valuable manpower. Now a year later, these two teams are fated to match each other once again in the Round of 16.
Not much has changed for Ukraine: they still play a heady game and will look to use strategy to gain an advantage over Brazil. Brazil has changed a bit, most notably with a new head coach, Alex Selma. Coach Alex was brought in to put Brazil over the top, instilling discipline and a no-excuse attitude into a team that got knocked out too early a year ago.
Ukraine can keep this close with ball control and superior goaltending, perhaps even stealing a goal with their deceptively quick wings. Brazil is solid all throughout though, so Ukraine will have to play their best game. Expect this one to be close for 70 minutes or so, but for Brazil to add some insurance and pull it out.
#9 Nigeria vs. #8 USA at 3 p.m.
Believe it or not, Nigeria and USA were only separated on the seed line by virtue of a single card, given to Nigeria, which gave USA the tie breaker. Nevertheless, both teams won their play-in matches, so the seeds stayed true.
Nigeria has exceeded expectations from a year ago, when they didn’t qualify for the knockout rounds, as they advance past the play-in round. Although ranked #9 going into the knockout round, the soccer community considers them the #4 African team in the tournament, so this will be no easy test for team USA. The US team has managed a 3-0 group stage record, but due to a shortage of players, they weren’t able to put a complete effort together until their game against Saudi Arabia. This will be an entertaining match, as all 8-9 games usually are, but the advantage goes to USA if they bring the full roster, and that’s a big IF!
#11 Jamaica vs. #6 Honduras at 5 p.m.
Honduras has steadily become one of the Unity Cup darlings over the first three years of the cup. They have stable play and solid coaching year after year, but have yet to take the next step. There’s no better place to start than against the #11 seed and last year’s third place finisher, Jamaica.
Jamaica has been leaking oil for the majority of this season and will need to get it together quickly if they want to pull off the upset. Captain Alvin Melhado warns not to mess with the real “pirates of the Caribbean,” but if they play sluggish like they did against Morocco or Cameroon, it could prove to be a long day. It is tough to bet against the reigning 3rd place game winner, but in this case, Honduras is the stronger team and should advance.
#14 Ireland vs. #3 Ghana at 7 p.m.
Ghana has been a big surprise in the tournament thus far. Their belief in clean, fair play has paid off with a top-3 seed and a bye from the play-in round. Ireland had a bit of a tougher path: after a battle with El Salvador that cost them the group, they had to play rival England in the play-in round shorthanded but still managed the win. Ireland is a trendy pick here for the upset, and with good reason: most of their team played Gaelic Football for the majority of August, leaving a skeleton of a roster
At full strength, Ireland could be a favorite to win it all. As for Ghana, they boast a strong offense led by goal scorer Issac Agyapong, who is among the favorites for this year’s PFCU Golden Boot Award. This will be a tough match for Ghana, but if they continue to play their style and frustrate Ireland into some fouls and cards, the tide could turn in their favor. Chances are Ireland comes disciplined with a full squad and pulls the seeded upset.