POTP Cup of Nations Where Football Isn’t The Most Popular Sport: Matchday #3

It’s time for the conclusion of the group stage in this new, prestigious tournament, simmed via FIFA 98 on the Mega Drive. For reviews of Matchday #1 and #2 (or, if you’re reading this in the future, the whole Cup) click here.

First, a recap of the groups going into Matchday 3:

With the four best 3rd place sides going through, along with each top two, most teams still had a chance of progressing, while Japan, Venezuela and Ireland were already mathematically through.

Group 1 – Matchday 3

Group 1 kicked things off for the last round of group games as Latvia took on Puerto Rico…:

…while New Zealand faced Japan at the same time:

With everything still to play for, the Puerto Ricans leapfrogged Latvia in the standings in the first half with a goal from Pinto, in fact putting them top of the group as things stood:

Pahars showed his frustration with the situation receiving a yellow card for a cynical shove in the back, and was lucky not to be sent off later for a similar incident:

0-1 to Puerto Rico it ended. New Zealand meanwhile, who had yet to register a goal in the competition, remained scoreless with the already qualified Japan in their first half. The deadlock was broken after the break but it was not to be NZ’s tournament, as Japanese talisman Kitazawa latched on to a rebound to score:

It was a feat he repeated before the end to make it 0-2 – his 6th already in the tournament – and three wins out of three for emerging Cup favourites Japan, despite heroics once more from Batty in the homeward-bound opposition’s goal:

The two results left the table looking like this with Japan and the unexpected Puerto Rico safely through, but Latvia’s black bar – indicating progression through a best placed third spot – could disappear depending on other groups:

Group 2 – Matchday 3

In Group 2 Estonia and Nicaragua, who were facing each other…:

…and the USA, taking on Tonga, all fancied their chances at making it through:

The Nicaraguans forced one of the saves of the Cup out of Estonia’s Poom early in the match:

Before the Estonians hit the post, and later nearly scored from a goalmouth scramble. The two evenly match sides seemed destined to both remain undefeated, until injury time when Bermudez skillfully drifted into the Estonian box and slotted home the winner at his near post, causing utter scenes for Nicaragua who qualify:

The US would have been hoping to take advantage of a weak Tonga, yet it was the latter who had the first shot on target. Midway through the half, however, Wynalda’s goal put Americans on top:

And soon it was 2-0, thanks to this magnificent diving header from Jones:

Early in the second, a beautiful long-range Jones swerver fooled the Tonga goalkeeper and it was 3-0:

Tonga did force the US ‘keeper to make one big save, but threatened little other than that. Before the end Jones nabbed his hat-track – and an impressive hat-trick of man of the match awards in as many games – to make it 4-0. USA go through in top spot while a miserable tournament for Tonga ends:

Group 3 – Matchday 3

Cuba had been one of the surprise packages of the Cup so far with wins over Canada and Wales to secure their place in the next round, and they expected to wrap up the group stage with another win against goalless and pointless Pakistan:

One of the most intriguing matches of this series of games was also in Group 3 as the aforementioned Canada and Wales both attempted to seal a place in the last 16:

For the second match in a row in this competition there was a goal via diving header, this time by Cuba’s Ramos:

Darcourt doubled the Cuban’s lead with a fine left-footed strike soon afterward:

Pakistan surprisingly rallied and appeared to have the ball in the net near the end of the half, but it was cleared off the line:

Besides a Cuban shot parried onto the bar and off for a throw in, nothing else of note occurred in the second half and 2-0 to Cuba it finished.

The result meant the Welsh and Canadians were to battle it out for second place, a game that was thought would be closely contested. But Wales – in all white away strip – instead basically scored straight from kick-off thanks to a Mark Hughes rebound:

Before the end of the half, Rush made it 0-2 thanks to another rebound after a move from a throw-in on the left:

The Welsh basically shut the game down in the second period, happy to keep their lead. Canada did have a chance and a seemingly open goal, but it too was cleared off the line and all they could win was this aesthetically pleasing corner:

Cuba and Wales happily go through while the Canadians’ fate lies in the hands of others:

Group 4 – Matchday 3

China against Australia had been another eagerly anticipated first round match since the draw was made:

Lithuania facing The Bahamas was perhaps a less anticipated encounter, but the latter were the surprise package of the tournament, currently sitting in first ahead of Australia on goal difference and had now mathematically qualified:

China, sitting bottom on one point, desperately needed a big performance to save their tournament, but nearly had the ball in their own net early on. Then, mid-way through the half, Zelic was played into the box with a beautiful through ball and slotted in the opener for Australia:

Trajanovski made it 0-2 before half-time to all but assure the victory and wrapped it up with number three after the break, when a goalkeeping mix-up presented a virtual open goal. The ‘keeper was forced to make a couple of fine saves to semi-redeem himself later on, but before the end man of the match Trajanovski took advantage of a rebound to make it a comfortable 0-4 along with securing his hat-trick:

With Australia through and China out, Lithuania needed a win to join the growing number of teams assured of at least one more match in the knock-out phase. But a long range shot off the post from The Bahamas was the closest to a goal from either side in a scoreless first half. The second half saw even less action, so here’s a shot of the players standing around doing nothing to symbolise this:

And so Lithuania became the first third place team to be officially knocked-off, with all those on 3 points in Groups 1, 2 and 3 above breathing a sigh of relief for now:

Group 5 – Matchday 3

With Ireland and Venezuela on six points each going into Match 3, their fixture seemed likely to be a relaxed affair:

Panama and the Philippines, however, both had it all to play for, although indicators suggested the latter would be heading home at least:

Considering their secured qualification, Venezuela’s loss of Savarese due to suspension from his red card against Panama meant less than it might have otherwise. But his compatriot Hernandez nearly joined him in stands here, after a horror tackle on Staunton was sanctioned with only a yellow:

For the Irish a huge following of their fans filled the stadium, hoping for a win to keep the momentum up going into the next stage:

The green horde was rewarded near the end as Cascarino capped a great performance with a goal to put Ireland on equal footing as Japan and Cuba, and hence up there as tournament favourites, on maximum points after three games:

Panama, as a side tipped by some to potentially do well a this competition, had been frustrated to lose both games so far, but were still in with a shout of qualification provided a decent win against inferior quality opposition. Early on, in a buzzing atmosphere, the tension seemed to get the better of the Philippines, encapsulated by a clumsy bookable foul in the centre of the park:

From the resulting free kick Panama very nearly ended up taking the lead, but the goalkeeper was equal to the long range strike:

The Philippines own best chance of the half came from a corner just before the break, capping an entertaining stalemate so far:

The second half was more cagey with a draw seeming ever more likely as the clock ticked down, until Piggot somehow bundled the ball in for Panama during an ugly scramble to score the only goal of the game:

panama-philippines-e

But would that goal be enough for Panama? The answer, it seemed, was no, although intriguingly their record was identical by every criteria with Canada in Group 3 making them currently joint 4th third placed side, but both were behind Finland on goal difference:

Group 6 – Matchday 3

The battle of the tropical islands, Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago, in reality looked set to be a formality for the Caribbean outfit, as the Fijians had yet to register a point:

Finland and India, meanwhile, made for a fitting finale to the group stage – both were on three points having been humbled by T&T, with the Finns especially looking to prove themselves still among the Japans and Irelands as potential Cup winners:

Trinidad and Tobago’s Nixon opened the scoring in their match with a well worked move in the box, the player’s third so far in the competition:

Dwarika then doubled the lead with a terrific thunderbolt that left the goalie rooted to the spot:

In the second half the flood gates opened, first with Dwarika taking advantage of the weak Fijian defence to find space in the left of the box and skillfully stroke the ball past the outstretched  ‘keeper into the corner of the net:

Nixon also got his second and then third soon after, followed by Yorke earning a way onto the scoresheet through a rebounded effort:

Finally, Dwarika claimed his own hat-trick to make it a whopping 7-0 by the end. This image of one unhappy net-minder after the last of the goals says it all:

Nixon now joined USA’s Jones and Latvia’s Rimkus as second top-scorer on five, while a new star in Dwarika had been announced:

Like the Irish, the Finnish had traveled in numbers to see their side play, hopeful of a return to winning ways:

But instead it was a disastrous start for the Finns, as Singh took advantage of a defensive blunder to make it a shock 1-0 India:

So it remained until half-time. With one period left to save their tournament, Finland came out all guns blazing and forced the Indian goalkeeper into a string of impressive saves. The northern contingent in the stands could only watch on glumly:

It wasn’t to be their day as 1-0 to India it ended, who, on 6 points, were amazingly heading for the second round. Finland, now level on points and goal difference with Canada and Panama but behind on goals scored, were out, Panama back in:

***

Here we have full Matchday 3 results; curiously there was not a single game where both teams managed to score:

Which leave the final group tables looking like below, the only difference to those above being that Panama now have a black bar to show they have ended in a qualifying position:

Best performing players of the group stage (in no particular order):

And finally, the brackets for the Round of 16, which work like this: The group winners are each entered into the first six matches, with the runners-up from Groups 1 and 2 into the final two. The four best third placed sides are entered to face the winners of Groups 1-4, with the remaining four group-runners-up entered into the remaining four brackets:

As you can see, this produced the slightly awkward situation where Japan have to play Latvia again and USA replay Estonia. Canada and Panama, equal in every way after the opening three games, flipped a coin to determine their positioning, with Panama winning to give them Cuba, while the Canadians will meet Australia.

On the other side of the draw is probably the pick of the round with the Celtic derby of Ireland vs Wales, while a Caribbean derby between high-scoring Trinidad and Tobago and the fancy free Bahamas also promises to delight. There will be another all Latin affair also when Puerto Rico take on Venezuela, and finishing out the round will be the slightly odd pairing of Nicaragua and India.

*****

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