Fabio Pereira's hat trick propels Michigan to the second round of NCAA men’s soccer tournament
Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com
The temperature outside matched the ice-cold water following through Pereira’s veins.
With the Wolverines trailing 1-0 Pereira took three steps towards the ball and rocketed a shot into the lower left corner of the net tying the game in the 66th minute.
Pereira wasn’t finished, not by a long shot as the Brazilian would score two more times to propel Michigan to a 3-1 victory over Niagara in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship.
“Obviously I was a bit nervous, but I was confident because we have been practicing (penalty kicks) for a while now and I just put it away,” Pereira said. "“It’s fantastic to get a hat trick, but it’s more important that we advance in the tournament, that’s what we’ve been working at all season.”
Just two minutes after tying the match, Pereira split three defenders on the left side before firing a shot on net from outside the box that hit the leg of a Niagara defender and trickled past goalkeeper Brett Petricek giving the Wolverines a 2-1 lead.
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“I think originally the shot was going wide, it just took an unlucky bounce. Our defender stuck his foot out to block it and that’s just the way it falls sometimes. Just an unlucky deflection,” said Niagra coach Petricek said.
Pereira called the goal a lucky shot.
Five minutes later, Pereira was hauled down in the box and awarded another penalty kick. Again, he buried his shot in the lower left corner sealing the game for Michigan.
“It’s a lot of fun, it was a quick turn around. It’s just a blast that we’re in the second round of the tournament,” Pereira said.
Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com
After a scoreless first half, the Wolverines fell behind in the 59th minute when Bryan Da Cruz took a through pass down the left side and broke in alone before ripping a shot past Michigan keeper Adam Grinwis.
The goal came as a shock to the Wolverines as they had dominated play up to that point of the contest. Michigan outshot Niagara 16-1 in the 1st half. But according to Pereira, the team didn’t get discouraged.
“We practice those situations all the time. That’s what happens in soccer, it’s a funny game because not always the best team comes out with the result,” Pereira said. “So when we went down a goal, we just kept going and kept hunting for a goal and we found it and we were fortunate enough to turn the game around.”
Although his team fell behind, Michigan first-year head coach Chaka Daley was happy with the team’s overall effort.
“I don’t think we played poorly throughout the whole game,” Daley said. “They showed a lot of character tonight being down 1-0 after dominating the game, they could have put their heads down, but they kept going and found a way.”
The Wolverines will travel to Akron on Sunday for a second round match up. The game is scheduled to start at 4:30. The Zips ended the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.
“It’s rare that you get to play against such a good program like Akron, but we’re a good program as well,” Grinwis said. “We’ve had the opportunity to play them once already so that helps us a team. We got a bit of a rivalry with Akron in past few years through the tournaments and through the regular season.”
The Zips eliminated Michigan from the NCAA tournament in the semifinals of the 2010 NCAA College Cup on its way to the school's first national championship. Michigan won the next time the teams met in a major upset last season, and Akron beat Michigan 1-0 on Oct. 16 in the teams' most recent meeting.
Pereira said his team is ready for Sunday’s contest.
“I look forward to it a lot. In college soccer, you don’t get a better chance than that, going to Akron, to send a statement to the whole country,” Pereira said. “We’re a totally different team from when we played them last time. I think we’re all hungry for that game and we can’t wait.”