Rematches provide final intrigue
Revenge will be on Haiti’s mind when they square up to Bolivia in Wednesday’s Boy’s Youth Olympic Football Tournament final. It is an unlikely rematch when one considers the South Americans cruised to a 9-0 win in the teams’ opening match, but their Caribbean opponents deserve immense credit for bouncing back to edge out Vanuatu 2-1 and defeating hosts Singapore 2-0 to book their place in the tournament decider. With the gold medal and no small measure of pride at stake, the Haitians are expected to make this second encounter Bolivia a considerably tighter affair.
The same can be said of Montenegro, who lost to Singapore by a narrow 3-2 margin in the closing group game and are hoping to avenge that result in the match for third place. The hosts, still lamenting their surprise semi-final 2-0 loss to Haiti, will be desperate end their campaign with a medal.
The painful memory of losing to Bolivia by the tournament’s biggest margin so far is all the motivation Haiti need heading into this rematch with the South Americans. Despite surprising even their own supporters with their emphatic win over the hosts, the Haitians and coach Pierre Sonche have made it clear that that heavy opening match defeat still rankles. “We lost to them last time because physically we were not ready due to the jet-lag,” he told FIFA.com. “I want my boys to put the previous result behind and focus on the next game.”
The determination and guts shown by Haiti in subsequent matches will have warned Bolivia to expect a considerably sterner test second time around, but coach Douglas Cuenca is undaunted. “We stated our aim is to win the gold before we came here,” he said. “This goal remains unchanged regardless of the opponents.” However, while his side enter the final as clear favourites, Cuenca is wary of potential stage fright. “There is always pressure to win gold,” he told FIFA.com. “I hope our boys can get themselves over this and play to their best.”
The other game
Montenegro-Singapore, the Jalan Besar Stadium, Wednesday 25 August, 18.00 (local time)
After missing out on the final, the hosts are highly motivated to ensure a podium place by claiming bronze. Spurred on by a raucous home crowd, Singapore won the two sides’ last meeting courtesy of Brandon Koh’s late strike, and coach Kadir Yahaya is calling on the team’s 12th man once again. “The next game is all about psychology,” he said. “I just hope the fans come back and support the boys again.”
Singapore lost to Haiti in a tight battle during which they created a host of chances but failed to convert any. The result may have been heart-breaking, but it was the boys’ overall performance that has left their coach optimistic ahead of meeting Montenegro. “I am proud of how far my team have come,” he said. “They have proved they can compete at this level and now it would be good to finish the Games with a medal.”
14 is the number of goals racked up by the clinical Bolivians, only four fewer than the total number scored by the tournament’s other five teams.
“Participating in the Olympic Football Tournament is not only about competing for gold. It provides the teenagers with a chance to have a good time together and enjoy football.” Pierre Sonche, Haiti coach