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Sunday brought out that huge home crowd, which had become sophisticated enough to rain down Argentinian World-Cup-final-style confetti showers and had learned a deep-throated howl of Cosmos! Cosmos! that would not be out of place in Liverpool or Munich. And the sheer weight of talent, even though it had shown itself vulnerable, could hardly fail a second time in two weeks, even though Firmani himself declared, "We could be our own biggest threat."
Inevitably, the Tampa battle plan had to be the same as that of all the teams that come to Giants Stadium, where the Cosmos are 30-4 over the past two years: to attack all out from the start and hope for an early goal that would put the Cosmos off balance. Without Marsh, though, the Tampa attack was already blunted. In his stead the Rowdies played David Robb, a red-headed Scot with a reputation for aggressiveness.
The early exchanges were even. Once Carlos Alberto, the Cosmos' veteran Brazilian defender, made a fine solo run and shot just wide. And once Bogicevic, passing back somewhat casually to his own goalkeeper from a Tampa corner, almost opened the way for a Rowdies' score. The Tampa Bay midfielders, pivoting on Graham Paddon, were pressing, running harder for the ball than the Cosmos, intercepting ill-judged passes. But it was the Cosmos who produced the first moment of serious menace when Dennis Tueart got loose on the left wing and fired in a shot that Winston Dubose, the excellent young Floridian goalie, just got a hand to.
As he would right through the game, Tueart was getting some robust treatment from Rowdies Defender Arsene Auguste. Tueart was body-checked, tripped and just plain obstructed more times than the referee whistled. Once he just sat on the grass in mute appeal. Auguste finally got a yellow caution card, but for a time he was allowed to damp down Tueart's skills in most of the illegal ways there are.
Meantime, the other elements in the Cosmos attack were also being contained. Mike Connell, Tampa Bay's other South African, was doing a notable policing job on Forward Giorgio Chinaglia, and Steve Hunt was pushed out of his normally composed game. The Cosmos began to look ragged. At one point Chinaglia shouted angrily at Vito Dimitrijevic over a misplaced pass. Alberto, normally the calmest of players, got a yellow card for arguing with the referee. With 20 minutes left in the half Steve Wegerle let go a shot that barely missed.
But that was Tampa's last chance before the Cosmos slammed in the first nail. Instrumental in the goal was a player who was not associated with the dreadful defeat in Minnesota. Robert Iarusci came to the Cosmos from Toronto last year for the un-Cosmoslike sum of $25,000. Last season he played in only one game. This season, until the Minnesota debacle, he had started in 16. But in the last three playoff games he had been on the field every minute, showing himself adept at meshing in with Alberto. "He directs me, and I hope I am an intelligent enough player to follow his directions," he said before the Soccer Bowl.
With 15 minutes left in the first half, Iarusci broke clear of the Cosmos defense zone, cut through the middle and got the ball to Hunt. Tueart timed Hunt's crossed ball perfectly—and the Cosmos were a goal up. In turn the Rowdies' battle plan was in disarray. They were getting opportunities to score, but there was no Marsh there to work the final magic. After that first Cosmos goal something of the early eagerness seemed to go out of them. And when they did get into the Cosmos' penalty area, they overelaborated, as if reluctant to take the responsibility of a shot. Marsh might well have cut through all that rubbish.
And indeed it seemed the end when, for once escaping Mike Connell's attentions, Chinaglia alertly headed in a Steve Hunt rebound that Connell could only deflect into the net. That was just before halftime. A deluge seemed likely.
Now the only chance Tampa Bay had was to throw everything into the attack, leaving its defense zone thin. That this was its plan became clear as it replaced a defender and a midfielder with two forwards. With 17 minutes left, Paddon had the best chance of the match thus far for Tampa Bay, but he fired over the bar. And then, a moment later, the tactics seemed to have paid off and Tampa Bay was back in the game. A low shot from the big Brazilian Mirandinha made the score a retrievable 2-1.
But the reprieve lasted only three minutes. Then Tueart, cutting in from the left, with the Tampa defense standing still and appealing for an offside call, made the score 3-1 and victory for Tampa Bay unattainable.