John Bailie’s Co Down could upset the odds to win Premier section’s group of death.
Last year’s beaten finalists were paired alongside 2017 winners Right to Dream, much-fancied Japanese side Riseisha and Mexican outfit Atlante.
Bailie’s young side now have four points to their name after a goal from Linfield’s Callum McVeigh gave them a 1-0 victory over Atlante at Anderson Park yesterday.
If they defeat Riseisha in Castlerock today (3pm), they will be in with a great chance of reaching Thursday’s STATSports SuperCupNI semi-final.
Carrick Rangers coach Bailie said: “I’m delighted with our performances so far. To be sitting on four points after two really difficult games is fantastic. It means we are still in with a chance of reaching the semi-finals, which I don’t think many people predicted.
“However, we still have a lot of hard work to do. The Japanese side are highly-rated and, even if we beat them, seven points might not be enough to reach the semi-finals. That’s the harsh nature of this tournament.”
Incredibly, only one of this year’s squad played in the 2018 final against B Italia.
Ex-Ards captain Bailie explained: “10 of our squad are a year young, and only one of our squad played in last year’s final, so this is a new group of players.
“Two years ago, we came here with a very young squad and, although they didn’t make the semi-finals, the experience in 2017 helped us reach the final in 2018. In a sense, this is the start of a new cycle, so we’re ahead of schedule in that regard. But if we win, lose or draw at Castlerock tomorrow then I’ll still be very proud of this group, because they have already exceeded all expectations.”
Like Down, Right to Dream also have four points. They defeated Riseisha 3-1 in Limavady.
In Group B, Celtic are in control with six points from two games. Last night, they beat 2014 finalists Vendee of France 2-1 at Scroggy Road in Limavady.
In the same group, Co Tyrone drew 2-2 with American side Global Premier Soccer in Ahogill.
In Group C, Deportes Iquique beat Chippenham Town 2-1 in a fractious affair at Castlerock.
Fermanagh are in the mix for a place in the semi-finals. They moved onto four points thanks to a 1-0 win over American side Strikers at the Riada.
Also in Group D, Valencia defeated Co Armagh 2-1 to join Fermanagh on four points. Tomorrow, Valencia play Strikers and Fermanagh face Armagh.
Newcastle United are in control of Group E. They beat Hull City 4-1 at Seahaven in Portstewart last night. In the same group, Co Londonderry lost 2-1 to Canadian outfit Edmonton in Clough.