Saturday, October 22, 2011

Your friendly neighborhood UEFA NextGen report

The four groups of the NextGen Series are getting serious. Everybody's still alive just past the midway point of the competition. Well, almost everybody.

Manchester City and Celtic met knowing their match was a do-or-die affair unless they played to a draw. They did not.

Celtic hadn't played in the competition since August 31st and looked rather rusty as a miscommunication between Jorge Chalmers goalkeeper Robbie Thomson allowed visiting City to take the lead. Celtic would go into halftime however, with a well-earned lead from a defensive miscue and glancing header to the back post from Paul George.

George doubled his money in the 59th minute finishing off a move started by - gasp! - a short corner. City made it 2-3 when Denis Suarez buried his sliding effort in the top left corner of the net. As the home team press for an equalizer, Paul George put the game out of reach with a punishing counterattack run that found Tony Watt for the game's fourth and final. As such, City will play out their remaining three games with no hope of advancing to to knockout stage while Celtic look to cut down the six points between themselves and Marseille and Barcelona. Fortunately, they have a game in hand with which to do it.

Elsewhere, PSV's dwindling hopes of advancement were shattered by Tottenham at Spurs Lodge. Peter van Ooyen's 41st minute goal was only his side's fourth in as many games, whereas Spurs tallied four in these 90 minutes alone and two before PSV got their one and only. When Kudus Oyenuga's 55th minute nail in the coffin found the goal, it proved to be the last goal meaningful PSV will surrender in this year's NextGen campaign. At this rate, they will be lucky to get invited back next year.

One team swinging above the weight of their name is Rosenborg. After giving Ajax all they could handle, the Norwegian team - affectionately referred to as "The Troll Kids" - were most unwelcoming to Fenerbahce. Fenerbahce looked up to the task however, when Kandemir's 4th minute drive put the visitors in front. It would take Bakenga's near-post finish and drawing of an Asbak-finished penalty to put the hosts ahead. Characteristic of the inexperienced defending in this competition, Rosenborg's Alex Hovdevik spilled for Recep Niyaz to clean up and equalize. Impressive efforts from Bakenga have him a late hat trick gave the host a deserved three points and even on points with Aston Villa in second place in Group 3.

In Group 2 action, leaders Sporting took on third place Wolfsburg at VfL-Stadion. The draw assured Sporting a spot in the last eight while making it a near certainty that Liverpool, Wolfsburg, and Molde will battle it out for the last spot in Group 2. Each side had a goal called back for offside in a game where the hosts may have felt they deserved more than a point. Neither team can be too disappointed though, as Wolfsburg host Molde in their last game and Liverpool must travel to Lisbon. Sean Cunningham's Molde must win out against Wolfsburg and have Sporting win to have any honest hope of advancing.

Lastly, the biggest upset of the round came out of Group 1. Typically, when any Barcelona team pulls ahead with two early goals the game is effectively over and one can set an over-under on just how many the Catalans will score. In Marseille on Thursday, '2' would have been the winning bet as the hosts stormed back with four unanswered goals. It all started just before the half as Baptiste headed home a long free kick to give the home team some halftime momentum. It proved effective as a penalty from Diop was followed by goals from Santiago and Abdullah to cap the upset of campaign to date. As is, Marseille share the top spot with Barcelona with two games to play.

Check back in two weeks Wolfsburg look to go ahead of Liverpool against Molde and Inter take on Spurs in a match likely to decide Group 4.

- Jacob Klinger

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