Crunch ties await hosts, Bolivia
The only two teams with a perfect record in the Boys’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament - Bolivia and Singapore - look the undisputed favourites heading into Sunday’s semi-finals. The South Americans face their first real test when they come up against a dogged Montenegro side, while the hosts will have to be on their toes against Haiti, the comeback kings who are confident of springing another surprise.
On the basis of the performances of these two sides’ performances during the group phase, this clash stands out as the tougher semi-final. Bolivia entered the competition vowing to take the gold, and their ambitions were bolstered by opening victories over Vanuatu, 2-0, and Haiti, 9-0. Montenegro, for their part, got off to a good start by edging out Zimbabwe 2-1 to storm into the last four, and despite narrowly losing to hosts Singapore 3-2 in the last game, the Europeans have proved they are capable of competing against any team.
Coach Douglas Cuenca’s outfit oozes quality, with their gifted frontman Rodrigo Mejido having grabbed the headlines during Bolivia's 9-0 demolition of Haiti, netting four goals and providing assists for the other three. Montenegro will count on their disciplined play to counter the South Americans’ attacking waves, while hoping that their prolific captain Nebojsa Kosovic can find himself in a position to breach Bolivia's rearguard.
After cutting the physically stronger Montenegro down to size, coach Kadir Yahaya’s talented charges are hotly-tipped to win the tournament. Standing between them and a place in the final are Haiti, who sensationally overcame Vanuatu 2-1 to book their place in the last four. The Caribbean side showed plenty of guts and determination in coming from behind to win the decider, a display which boosted coach Sonche Pierre’s confidence "to go a bit further" against the hosts.
Despite opening brightly with two straight wins, the home team could be said to have ridden their luck on both occasions, with both Zimbabwe and Montenegro having come close to scoring goals in the latter stages. For Yahaya, the team must raise their game against Haiti if they are to live up to expectations and progress to the final. "We lost possession cheaply in the dangerous areas, particularly in the middle of the park," he told FIFA.com. Should the Young Lions reproduce the form which saw them achieve back-to-back victories in the group stage, the Haitians will have a tough time on their hands.
26 - the number of goals that have been scored in the six games played, averaging over 4 goals per match.
Did you know?
Former Singapore international Kadir Yahaya took over the reigns of the U15 side in February after the death of his predecessor, David Sivalingam, last year.
"We have to contain our boys' emotions after the win (against Montenegro) and approach the semi's seriously. We can’t relax because it is Haiti and they are a team to respect," Kadir Yahaya, Singapore coach