Sunday, November 6, 2011

Your friendly neighborhood UEFA NextGen report

If one is the loneliest number, what does that make zero? After Ajax drew away to Fenerbahce they joined the imperfect mass that constitutes this year's NextGen field. Sporting and Tottenham remain unbeaten, but perfection is now a thing of the past for all 16 tournament teams. Yet if anyone can claim to have truly attained perfection it is Barcelona.

The only blemish for Barcelona to date came at Marseille and they came determined to avenge the defeat against now-entirely eliminated Manchester City. The Mancunians had held onto a mathematical prayer of advancement heading into their match at the Mini Estadi , but by halftime on Thursday it was fading fast as a brace from Sandra Ramirez put the hosts in the driver's seat. Ramirez, who was only recently promoted from the youth second team, made the most of his opportunity as he hammered home Bakoyoc's 30th minute cross to start the scoring. In the second half it was more of the beautiful same from Barca as substitute Miguel Angel's freekick found the back of the net with just over 20 minutes to play. City's Eirik Johansen had already done plenty to stop the bleeding at this point, but he was again helpless as Gustavo Ledes was played through for Barcelona's fourth. The visitors snagged a late consolation, but "too little, too late" was very much an understatement for in this game as the Barcelona victory sealed their place in the quarterfinals.

Before Aston Villa visited Fenerbahce if you had told them they'd bag all three of the game's goals they would have been undoubtedly delighted, but only if they failed to read the fine print. As fate would have it, it was Derrick Williams's header that looped away from the charging Benjamin Siegrist to give the hosts the lead. Unfortunately for Williams, his header was meant to clear the ball rather than avoid his own keeper. Nonetheless, his teammates were quick to cover up his embarrassment as Daniel Johnson finished off a darting move that he himself had started. The goal was well-deserved considering Villa had had the better of possession. Not to be satisfied with a draw, the visitors pressed for a winner. Their efforts were to be rewarded as Lewis Kinsella's shot from distance took a Lampard-esque deflection goal-wards to give his team the win.

With no points and two games to play the Yellow Canaries - gotta love these nicknames - could not have been thrilled to host then-perfect Ajax. You may recall that Ajax shellacked Fener 5-1 at home. The Amsterdammers looked likely to sweep the home and home as they dominated the first half. They went in at halftime scoreless however, and in a game that saw six bookings, play slowed slightly in the second half. Ajax looked most likely when Yener Arica's chip was only kept out by Berkay Oztuvan's bicycle. Fifteen minutes later, the whistle blew, Fenerbahce had earned their first point, and Ajax's record was permanently flawed.

In the other Group 3 game, Aston Villa looked to continue their rise up the table against Rosenborg. The youth clubs got to play at the senior side's Villa Park, but the visitors struck first through Mushaga Bakenga in the 8thminute. Bakenga's goal gives him a share of the top spot in the goal scoring table with Barcelona's Dongou. Unfortunately Bakenga's four in the tournament only equal the four that Villa hung on The Troll Kids - seriously, that's their nickname - in Birmingham. If the Under the Bridge Gang is to have any true chance of advancing they will have to do so with a win against Villa in next week's return leg.

In the ever-entagled Group 2, Wolfsburg hosted American Sean Cunningham's Molde. With this being Wolfsburg's last game, they went in knowing they had to take all three point to have any chance of holding off Liverpool. Due to the asymmetric arrangement of the competition, Liverpool will wrap up group play on the 16th. Molde too were very much in the hunt for a spot in the quarters, but also needed a win to keep serious hopes alive. It was not to be a day for the defense as the 3-3 scoreline reflected both teams' desperation. Molde triumphed in the group opener and looked to do the same when Zlatko Tripic opened the scoring in the fourth minute. Late in the half however, the hosts stormed back as Murat Bilderici's brace was followed by an Andac Güleryuz goal. Wolfsburg seemed sure to get the three points until Tripic returned to the scoresheet. Simon Markeng gave the hosts some lasting misery as he headed home in the 93rd to end the Germans' campaign.

Surprise Group 4 cellar-dwellers PSV Eindhoven welcome FC Basel with revenge clearly on the mind. Basel upset PSV in Switzerland back in August, but this time the Dutch side struck first with Menno Koch rising up to head in a 15th minute corner. The visitors equalized less than ten minutes later, but it was to be the end of the fun for Basel as PSV tacked on an another three before it was all said and done. Don't take my word for it though. The goods:

Aside from City and Fenerbahce, 14 teams still harbor hopes of advancing. Barcelona and Sporting have clinched, but Celtic and Molde fight to stay alive to keep Marseille and Liverpool respectively from clinching. Check in on the next edition as teenage dreams are fulfilled and others come crashing down.

- Jacob Klinger

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