By Andrew Dixon III, Staff Reporter
TALLAHASSEE –– Summer Summer Summertime….
The NBA Draft is done, the Major League baseball season is just about to hit the All-Star Break and one of my favorite summer sports events, Wimbledon, is just getting underway (Coco Gauff y’all!!!).
Yet The Summer of Soccer continues to roll on with three tournaments at the semifinal stage and one more on the verge of completing its knockout stage puzzle. The Copa America, Gold Cup and the FIFA Women’s World Cup will decide its finalists today and tomorrow and conclude next Sunday. The African Cup of Nations being contested in Egypt will wrap up on July 19 in Cairo.
Fire up the jets. Let’s take a quick trip around the world.
Copa America (Telemundo, ESPN+)
We start in Belo Horizonte, Brazil with the renewal of one of the great international rivalries in one most famous footballing arenas in the Americas.
The famed Mineirão will host the most anticipated showdown of the tournament as Brazil, looking to erase the bitter memories of THAT loss to Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 in the same building, will host Argentina which is still looking for a major international title in the Lionel Messi era (Tuesday 8:30 pm EDT). The Selecao come into this match having survived a penalty kick shootout against Paraguay after 90 minutes produced no goals between them. It was a lackluster effort by the hosts, only displaying real urgency in the latter stages of the match against a game 10-man Paraguay side. That being said, the sight of their eternal rivals, on the other side of the ball will be enough to encourage Brazil to bring their “A” game. La Albiceleste scraped through the group stage but were comfortable 2-0 winners against Venezuela with goals from Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez and Giovani Lo Celso who has attracted the interest of Manchester United. Argentina leads the all-time series between the two but an improved performance from Lionel Messi will be crucial against a Brazil side that’s making it’s name…on DEFENSE? Believe it, they’ve yet to concede in this tournament.
The other match (Wednesday, 7:30pm EDT) sees the two-time defending champions Chile who pulled a surprise by holding Colombia scoreless through 90 minutes and winning on penalties. Chile has seen a return to form by Alexis Sanchez and has conceded just one goal in the entire tournament. Peru? Nobody outside of Lima would have guessed they’d still be here, especially after getting run out of the building by Brazil in the final group stage match. But after not registering a shot on goal and surviving on penalties thanks to a Luis Suarez miss, the Blanquirroja have nothing to lose.
African Cup of Nations (BEin Sports)
Being contested for the first time ever during the summer months, the African Cup of Nations finishes group stage play on Tuesday to determine the final spots in the Round of 16.
Hosts Egypt sealed their place in the knock-out round by winning three group stage matches. Liverpool hero Mohammad Salah has found the back of the net twice for the seven-time champions who have yet to concede a goal. Uganda are also through as group runners-up as are DR Congo as one of the best third placed teams, securing their passage with 4-0 win over Zimbabwe in the final group stage match.
Defending champions Cameroon, coached by Dutch legends Patrick Kluivert and Clarence Seedorf are assured of advancing and will look to cement their place as group winners with a win in their final group stage match versus Benin. Four time champions Ghana are also assured of advancing and capture the groups with a win in its final match against Guinea-Bissau and a draw or loss by Cameroon.
Debutants Madagascar has proved to be the biggest surprise of the tournament thus far, topping their group after beating three-time champions Nigeria 2-0 to go unbeaten through the group stage. Nigeria has also qualified for the knockout stage having claimed 1-0 victories over Burundi and Guinea who advance as one best third place teams.
Algeria and Morocco both won all three of their group stage matches without conceding a goal while Liverpool’s Sadio Mane has led Senegal to a second place finish. The Ivory Coast has also advanced as group runners-up, thanks to a four goal display in its final group stage match. Mali has advanced out of its group with Tunisia and Angola hoping for victories that will signal their progression as well. Kenya and South Africa await the results of Tuesday’s matches to see to see if they progress as third place finishers.
FIFA Women’s World Cup (Fox Sports; FS1)
To France we go now with semifinals set to kick off Tuesday. The defending champion US gutted out a 2-1 win over hosts France in what was the most anticipated match of the tournament. Despite being largely out played by the hosts, the US rode two Megan Rapinoe goals and held on after Wendie Rennard headed home a free kick late in the second half. The US cannot afford a let down as they face England (Tuesday 3pm) who thoroughly dominated Norway, cruising to a 3-0 win. The US need a big match from Alex Morgan who has not made a mark on this tournament after scoring 5 goals against hapless Thailand. The US’ defense has held solid but this match will be won or lost in the midfield and on the wings. The matchup between the US’ Crystal Dunn (who was massive against France) and England Nikita Parris will be one to watch. The English tabloids have really hyped this match up, with the Daily Mirror asking whether the US are too arrogant while many right leaning fans are actually wanting the US to lose due to Rapinoe’s refusal to sing the national anthem or visit the White House should they win.
The winner will face either the Netherlands, making their first trip to the semifinals or Sweden (Wednesday 3pm) who pulled the first real upset of the tournament with a 2-1 come from behind win against Germany. The Netherlands, the reigning European champions, are on a rocket ascent to the upper echelon of women’s soccer but will face a tough test against a Swedish side that is starting to find its stride in the latter stages of this tournament.
Gold Cup (FS1, Univision, Televisa, TV Azteca)
Finally we come back stateside as the semifinals are set in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Caribbean has represented well, outperforming its Central American counter parts and placing two teams in the final four for the first time in its current iteration. Haiti won its group for the first time winning all three of its matches and stunning Costa Rica on the final match day with a 2-1 come from behind victory. Not content with another quarterfinal finish, Les Grenadiers found themselves down 2-0 to Canada before scoring three second half goals, the last coming on a beautiful pass from Duckens Nazon to Wilde-donald Guerrier to gain their first semifinals since winning the tournament in 1973. Yo sezi indeed.
Jamaica is in familiar territory, gaining the semi-finals for third consecutive tournament. Despite an inconsistent group stage performance in one of the weaker groups, Tappa Whitmore’s squad did enough to top their group and then survive a 1-0 encounter against Panama.
Jamaica finds a familiar foe in the semifinals, the US whom they beat at this stage 4 years ago and more recently in a pre-tournament friendly. The Squad looks to continue its redemption tour after some results which saw them demolish Trinidad and Tobago in the group stage (6-0) but be exposed by a surprising Curacao in the quarterfinals, requiring a first-half Weston McKinnie goal and some timely goalkeeping by Zach Steffan to provide the basis of a 1-0 victory. The US has played this tournament as if trying to convince itself that it’s one of the favorites and the Reggae Boyz will be up for this match as they always are when they see The Squad on the other side of the field (Wednesday, 9:30 EDT)
That being said, I still believe this is El Enemigo’s tournament to lose. That Team Down South had little resistance in the group stage finishing with a +10 goal differential but were predictably made to labor against Costa Rica, surviving a dubious penalty call and penalties to advance to the semis thanks largely the heroics of Memo Ochoa in goal. All the more impressive is that Mexico can win this tournament while missing several stars due to injury and personal/family issues. Raul Jiminez has been stellar for El Enemigo with four goals during the tournament and the ageless Andres Guardado remains the heart and soul of this proud side. There was an injury concern for him coming into this match with Haiti (Tuesday, 10:30pm EDT) but you know he’ll be ready.
Grab your remotes and get comfortable, footy fans. It’s gettin’ kinda hectic right now.
Based in Tallahassee, Andrew L. Dixon, III has contributed soccer articles to BASN since 2004. He previously authored a column for the US Soccer Players.com website and attended the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He can be reached at Golnoir@aol.com