ST. PETERSBURG, FL — The 2017 Florida Cup kicked off this afternoon on a scenic day at Al Lang Stadium in Tampa Bay, with German Bundesliga side Bayer 04 Leverkusen and a 10-men Estudiantes de La Plata playing to a 1-1 draw, with Bayer winning the match in a penalty shootout. The match opened the annual early-year tournament, featuring some of the best clubs in Europe and South America.
The transformed baseball stadium that sits on the edge of Tampa Bay hosted several thousand spectators, many of whom were on hand to see Mexican national team star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.
The first 45 minutes didn’t showcase the most exciting brand of soccer this crowd has seen, but did provide a handful of key moments and missed chances for both sides.
About six minutes in, Bayer’s Joel Pohjanpalo bounced a shot off the crossbar on a free kick from not too far outside of the penalty area. That quickly led to a chance down the field for Estudiantes, which used a counter-attack break to set up an early shot in front of the net that finished too wide.
The Argentine side, which also saw a modest following at the match, was arguably the better team throughout much of the first half, while Bayer struggled to hold quality possession and create chances up the field.
Estudiantes surprised most of the crowd and grabbed the goal advantage in the 33rd minute on a solid finish by Elias Umeres, who tucked home a low-sailing shot from about 10 yards ahead of the goal.
Bayer, which is visiting the Sunshine State on its Bundesliga break, in which it currently sits ninth in the league standings, had its best chance of the match to level the score in the 41st minute when the club was awarded a penalty kick. Chicharito took the kick from the spot and was denied by goalkeeper Mariano Andujar, holding his club’s lead.
But Bayer would gain a man advantage moments later when Estudiantes midfielder Rodrigo Braña was sent off by referee Vincent Apple-Chiarella, after receiving his second yellow card of the match. It put the Argentines down to 10 men just before the halftime whistle.
Both clubs came out with almost entirely different lineups to start the second half, with Bayer finally gaining more control on the contest.
Stefan Kiessling’s header flew just over the crossbar in the 57th minute, and both Sam Schreck and Danny Da Costa saw dangerous attempts on goal go just off target before Schreck finally broke the barrier for Bayer. He picked up a loose ball sent forward inside the penalty area and finished cleanly to level the score.
The game would finish 1-1 after 90 minutes, bringing things into an automatic penalty shootout, where Bayer defeated Estudiantes, 4-2 on spot kicks.
- Stefan Kiessling (Bayer): Goal —- Matias Aguirregaray (EST): Miss
- Charles Aranguiz (Bayer): Goal —- Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (EST): Goal
- Admier Mehmedi (Bayer): Miss (saved) — Julian Marchoni (EST): Goal
- Julian Brandt (Bayer): Goal — Lucas Diarte (EST): Miss (saved)
- Alexsandar Dragovic (Bayer): Goal
With the draw, each club picked up a point in the points-based FC Challenge series, while Leverkusen grabbed an extra point for the penalty victory.