It was a cold, windy, and sometimes rainy night at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex as the 2015 Florida Cup kicked off. With the cancellation of the Pro Soccer Classic, the folks at Disney brought in top tier teams from Germany and Brazil to face each other in a tournament that would crown both a club and a country champ.
German side Bayer 04 Leverkusen squared off against Brazilian club Fluminense FC in the first of tonight's two Orlando matches, with two more to come in Jacksonville on Saturday.
Game 1: Bayer Leverkusen vs. Fluminense FC
The Germans were in control throughout the opener, taking a 1-0 lead just before halftime and finishing off Fluminense with sheer ruthlessness, scoring two quick goals in the 78th and 79th minutes.
With most of the first half spent in the Brazilians' end, it was a question of whether Leverkusen would get frustrated or find a breakthrough.
Just before the break, they found a way in. Stefan Kießling, unmarked, rose high in the air to meet a wicked corner kick and headed it with power past a helpless Diego Cavalieri in the Fluminense net. The 44th-minute goal would be all the Germans would need.
Fluminense had very few looks at goal, managing only a couple of half chances on the counter throughout the match. Still, the game remained 1-0 until the 78th minute, when Simon Rolfes found the back of the net. Leverkusen added a third with a scorcher from Josip Drmic from near the top of the penalty area a minute later.
Fluminense could have yielded another just moments after Drmic's cracker, but second half keeper Klever made a diving save. In the end, the Brazilians never really threatened. Leverkusen finished with a commanding 11-1 advantage in shots.
About the only advantage Fluminense had was the more vocal support. The stands were full on both sides, but you could really hear the singing and chanting of the Brazilians, whereas the stadium was nearly silent when Bayer Leverkusen scored.
Photo by Nick Leyva, The Mane Land
Game 2: FC Koln vs. Corinthians
In the nightcap, Corinthians took the field against FC Koln and fans of the Brazilian club packed the grandstands on all four sides, singing and chanting and playing drums throughout the game, providing a raucous atmosphere.
Still, it was the German side that broke through first. Slawomir Peszko's finish went through the goalkeeper and dribbled over the line in the 14th minute to put FC Koln ahead, 1-0. Corinthians started to come into the game a bit more after the goal, with a couple near misses.
In the 21st minute, Guerrero picked up a yellow card for...who knows? There were Corinthians fans standing in the way, cutting off my view of most of the Brazilians' penalty area. The press area at Disney's ESPN WWOS is...let's diplomatically go with...problematic.
Ground level in one corner is not a good place to see a game to begin with. Then, when you allow people to stand in front of the press "box," it completely cuts off the view. I had to stand to see much of anything after about the 30th minute. Where there are no fans, photographers are standing in your way. I was probably missing a good game.
By standing for a while, I caught a few flurries of excitement. Thomas Kessler intercepting a dangerous cross that would otherwise have been headed in by Emerson, and a shot just wide by Elias in the waning moments of the first half could have equalized for Corinthians. Instead, FC Koln, like Bayer Leverkusen in the first match, took a 1-0 lead into the half.
Corinthians came into the game in the second half and created several chances, but the Koln back line snuffed out most of the danger and Kessler did the rest. The German side turned into an impenetrable wall over the last 15 minutes, though, and Corinthians couldn't find the key to unlock FC Koln's defense.
In the end, Peszko's goal was enough to give the German team a 1-0 win and Germany all six points on the evening without conceding a single goal to Brazilian opposition.
After the match, fans piled up against the barricades, shouting and begging for autographs of the Corinthian players, resembling a scene out of A Hard Day's Night. Corinthians may as well have been rock stars, because that's how their Brazilian fans were treating them, despite the loss.
So what did we learn?
Despite the weather and ticket prices that were less than stellar for friendlies -- and despite the games being held at Disney -- the inaugural Florida Cup was a success. Fans at both games were treated to good, competitive games with a bit of chippy play. The stands were full. People were buying food, drinks, and...rain ponchos.
It might not make a good substitute for fans of the Pro Soccer Classic, but these games served a completely different crowd. Rather than a replacement, you could think of it as an alternative. Aside from the weather, I'd have recommended this evening to anyone, particularly the atmosphere provided by Corinthians fans in the late game.