The Mahindra & Mahindra Sait Nagjee international football tournament has thrown up two rather similar matches in the semi-final line-up — a consistent team against a side that has improved greatly.
In the first of those matches, on Thursday, Brazil’s Atletico Paranaense, which began with a bang and did not falter afterwards, takes on Shamrock Rovers of Ireland, which was outplayed in its opening match before winning both the remaining encounters in the preliminary league.
And it should be an interesting match, especially if the Irishmen continue to improve the way they have in the tournament. They have come here with their first team, so they are far more experienced than the Under-21 side of Atletico.
But the Brazilians more than make up for their lack of experience with their skills and enthusiasm. Their talent was on display in their opening fixture, in which they made short work of Watford to win 2-0.
They were then held to a 2-2 draw by Volyn Lutks of Ukraine in what has been the best match of the tournament so far. With a 1-0 win against Rapid Bucharest of Romania, they topped Group A.
The Brazilians have shown that they could play a sharply attacking game, as they possess some quality up front, with the likes of Joao Pedro Silva, Yago da Silva and Luis Soares. It would be fascinating to see how they fare against the experienced defenders of Shamrock, a team which came back admirably after losing 0-2 to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk of Ukraine in the first match. The Irish team finished second in Group B by defeating Germany’s TSV 1860 Munich 3-2 and Argentina Under-23 1-0.
Like Shamrock, Watford, the Under-21 side of the English Premier League club coached by Australia’s World-Cupper Harry Kewell, too has fought its way back in the tournament, after capitulating to Atletico in the first match. It defeated Rapid Bucharest (2-0) and drew 1-1 with Volyn Lutsk of Ukraine to qualify as the second team from Group A.
Kewell’s boys could find Dnipro a very tough opponent in Friday’s second semi-final. The Ukrainians have easily been the best team in the competition.
They have a particularly strong defence — they have not conceded a goal yet in the tournament. After registering identical 2-0 victories over Shamrock and Argentina Under-23, they played out a goalless draw with TSV Munich in their last match to top Group B.
Kewell definitely would have noticed how the Germans, in a must-win match, failed to break through the Dnipro defence.