Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Your friendly neighborhood UEFA NextGen report

The NextGen Series seeks to feature the premier youth teams of Europe. In effect, it showcases the next generation - get it? - of European talent.

If Rosenborg and Aston Villa's do-or-die Group 3 clash at Lerkendal Stadium is any indication, we have years of little Frank Lampards to look forward to. Ole Kristain Selnaes's opener, struck from 20 yards out, deflected off of a defender and hit Villa keeper Calum Barrett in the hands before it finally trickled into the back of the net. Ten minutes later, it was a Derrick Williams strike that snaked through a series of defenders and teammates before sliding past Alexander Hovdevik for the equalizer. Hosts Rosenborg would have been hoping to sneak into halftime even, but Daniel Johnson was having none of it when his near post effort bounced between and through the keeper's legs to put Villa ahead.

Staring down elimination, everyone's favorite Troll Kids brought on a vicious fightback in the second half. It was Selnaes again, channeling his inner Lumpy as his strike from outside the box bounced down off the head of a diving Villa defender before skidding off the pitch and into the goal far to the right of Hovdevik. Not content with the draw, the hosts pushed on. Ten minutes later they were rewarded off of yet another goalmouth scramble. This time it was the competition's joint leading goal-scorer Mushaga Bakenga burying a rebound from four yards out. Lampard, the Ghost of Lerkendal ? Coming next year, the NextGen Dubious Goals Committee!

A week later, Rosenborg took their improving prospects to Istanbul to take on winless Fenerbahce . Having already been eliminated, Fenerbahce had nothing to lose. They didn't. In fact, after exchanging a series of chances it was the Group 3 whipping boys, through Emrah Akar, that got the game's only goal. Although Fener's role in the competition is complete, they've done enough to mix things up as Rosenborg now need a mini-miracle to advance.

Manchester City were looking to play the part of spoilers themselves as they visited Celtic Park. A dicey vintage British game ensued. Celtic put their stamp on the game early, generating a series of early chances, the best of which was only just tackled off the line fifteen minutes in. Yet Dylan McGeogh would bring justice to Celtic when his 33rd minute strike capped a mazy run through the City defense. They doubled their money five minutes from halftime as captain Marcus Fraser's half-volley off a corner gave them a 2-0 lead going into halftime.

As they had done throughout the competition, Manchester City increasingly came into the game after the break. Their efforts were rewarded in the 75th minute when Albert Rusnack's shout found the upper right hand corner of the net. Robbie Thomson's mishandling of a corner nearly proved disastrous, but City failed to capitalize as Celtic escaped with the full three points.

Needing a win to keep their faints hopes of advancement alive, a Sean Cunningham-less (away at U-23 camp) Molde played host to Sporting CP in a rare Saturday fixture. Sporting too had something to play for as they needed a point to clinch the top spot in Group 2. Sporting had shredded Molde at home in their first encounter and the visitors looked likely to do the same with a fourth minute Mateus Fonseca strike.

Molde hardly waited to strike back, however, as their 18th minute equalizer left all to play for. Within 10 minutes Alex Guedes put the away side back on top. An eight-minute brace from Armindo Bangrua very nearly put the game to bed, but Molde converted a 79th minute penalty and Simon Markeng set up a tense final 10 minutes with his goal in the 81st. It was not be for the hosts however, as Molde went crashing out in their last group game.

The result put Liverpool through to the quarterfinals before they set foot on the pitch at the Mafra Stadium to take on Sporting in a completely dead fixture (video link). The scoring action though, was far from dead.

At least for Sporting, who hung five on the visiting Reds. Sporting were boosted by the international return of Betinho. The Portugese starlet's brace sits him atop the competition's goal-scoring table with Rosenborg's Bakenga. His were only the third and fourth of Sporting's steam-rolling. By the time sub Gael Etock's stunning volley soared over Tyrell Belford, the game had been out of doubt for half an hour. The game also saw the dressing debut of American signing Marc Pelosi, who rode pine for 90 minutes.

With Group 2 play complete, both teams' place in the quarters is a certainty, leaving Wolfsburg and Molde to hope they are invited back next year. Celtic will need to avoid defeat at Barcelona and hope City do the same when they host Marseille. Such a set of results would set up a weighted playoff between Marseille and Celtic on the last day of Group 1. Rosenborg need newly clinched Ajax to beat Villa at home and then take the fight to the Dutchmen themselves with goals galore if they are to advance from Group 3. Meanwhile, if Basel take points from Spurs, PSV will join the ranks of the eliminated. All in the next edition ... It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

- Jacob Klinger

No comments: