Big time soccer finds a five-year home in Charlotte
Amid a sea of red and yellow with a few spots of purple, Eddie Nketiah scored two goals to send Arsenal FC to a 3-0 victory over ACF Fiorentina in an International Champions Cup match in Charlotte.
There was a lot of blue, too, at Bank of America Stadium as just 34,902 soccer fans filled the seats and braved 90-degree temperatures. At last month’s Gold Cup matches that featured Mexico, 59,283 fans filled the Carolina Panthers stadium. The first ICC match in Charlotte, in 2014, drew more than 69,000; last year’s game drew 55,247.
Nketiah gave the English Premier League club a 1-0 lead in the 15th minute off a pass from Sead Kolasinac. The Gunners almost scored again on the next play, but the ball went just wide.
Fiorentina, a Serie A team in Italy, had its chances in the final minutes of the first half; one of its shots missed by inches.
La Viola found themselves in hot water early in the second half. Goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano left the net to punch out a long ball at the top of the penalty area, but his leap over teammate Federico Ceccherini and Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette drew a yellow card. Arsenal missed the ensuing direct kick.
Nketiah scored again in the 66th minute as Fiorentina players argued with game officials over an apparent screen by Carl Jenkinson that allowed Henrikh Mkhitaryan to feed Nketiah.
Fiorentina became desperate, eliciting multiple fouls. Coach Vincenzo Montella subbed in five players at once, hoping the game would swing in their favor.
Arsenal came close to extending its lead as 18-year-old Gabriel Martinelli nutmegged Fiorentina’s Nicky Medja Beloko on a sprint then slipped the ball past Terracciano, but the shot went just wide. Moments later, Joe Willock knocked in a pass from Lacazette to cap the scoring.
Three who mattered
Eddie Nketiah: The 20-year-old English striker currently plays on five teams — Arsenal, England’s national U-21 team, Arsenal U-23, Arsenal U-21 and England’s U-20. He scored the deciding goal against Bayern Munich last Wednesday in a 2-1 victory.
Mesut Ozil: Around the 75th minute, restless Arsenal fans started chanting, “We want Ozil,” and head coach Unai Emery answered, sending the now-blonde German midfielder to warm up. Ozil entered the game in the 79th minute, bringing fans to their feet.
Pietro Terracciano: The Fiorentina goalkeeper started the second half and quickly drew a yellow card on a punchout in the 56th minute. Arsenal’s direct kick then sailed high above the net.
▪ Although it was the underdog heading into the match, Fiorentina gave Arsenal a run for its money. La Viola kept the Gunners on their toes early, limiting them to just four shots in the first half, only one on goal.
▪ Fiorentina relied heavily on its ability to win duels. La Viola kept the ball in the air more than Arsenal, hitting open play crosses as often as they could.
▪ Due to Saturday’s high temperatures, three water breaks were called — two in the second half.
▪ Arsenal has won 13 championships in English soccer, 13 FA Cup championships and finished fifth in the Premier League last season. The Gunners lost to Premier League rival Chelsea in the Europa League final.
▪ ACF Fiorentina was a late replacement for AC Roma in the ICC. La Viola finished 16th in Italy’s Serie A standings and was almost relegated to Serie B. Fiorentina beat Mexico’s Guadalajara 1-0 on Tuesday.
▪ If you missed the ICC game this weekend, you’ll have more chances to attend. Relevent Sports Group recently announced a five-year deal for Charlotte to host ICC matches.
▪ Arsenal (2-0) heads to Landover, Md., to face Spain’s Real Madrid on Tuesday. Fiorentina (1-1) will play Portugal’s Benfica in Harrison N.J., on Wednesday.