Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Your friendly neighborhood UEFA NextGen report

This should have been up the other day, my bad. Don't fault Jacob...

At this stage in the competition you would have every reason to believe that some dead rubbers would be played. Yet the "Look at Me!" nature of international youth soccer forbids such a thing.

For instance, Celtic welcomed Marseille to Celtic Park with nothing tangible to play for. They had been eliminated and their guests, Marseille , needed a 13-goal swing to pull even with Barcelona atop Group 1. If ever a game was to be boring, this was it. Needing nothing other than pride to play for however, Celtic came out buzzing with the home side's attacking action revolving around Czech youth international Filip Twardzik. Fittingly, the 18 year-old got a goal of his own just before halftime, as his close-range header gave Celtic a 1-0 lead.

Credit is due to Marseille for doing their part to, as an old coach once told me, "put on a show." Celtic were the better team, but the away team, featuring just three of the eleven starters from its quarterfinal-clinching win over Manchester City, were ever-present in the match. As present as they were, Celtic managed to get their second shortly after the break when in a shocking turn of events, a short corner actually worked and Celtic defender Lewis Toshney shifted his team into cruise control. The game would finish with a morbidly entertaining six yellows cards and two reds - both for Marseille - as Paul George gave Celtic the 3-0 to close out their NextGen campaign in style.

In the bizarro world that is Group 4 - not even close to a balanced schedule and nearly MLS-level parity - Tottenham visited Inter Milan needing only a point to clinch the top spot in the group. The hosts came in knowing a win would see them through to the quarters and keep alive their hopes of winning the group themselves. Simone Pecorini volleyed his team into prime position less than a quarter of an hour in after a pin-point cross from Rodrigo Alborno, but Spurs answered back through Alex Pritchard. The attacking midfielder equalized, scrambling home the rebound after a long drive from Souleymane Coulibaly was spilled to the edge of the six-yard box.

Inter had the lion's share of chances in the second half, with Samuele Longo creating several of his own off the dribble. It was not to be though, spurning several. Neither team will have left Stadio Citta di Meda terribly disappointed. Tottenham clinched the group and Inter needed only a point more to see themselves through.

I Nerazzurri
got their point and then some when they took on PSV Eindhoven at De Herdgang. When Longo put away his 33rd minute chance, he not only avenged those that went begging against Tottenham, he clinched his team a spot in the quarterfinals. Substitute Mohammed Rayhi salvaged a goal for the already-eliminated hosts on 75 minutes, but Inter closed the game out, eliminating Basel and ensuring a knockout visit to Lisbon.

The one-game playoffs, yet to be scheduled will be as follows:

Barcelona v. Ajax
Aston Villa v. Marseille
Tottenham v. Liverpool
Sporting CP v. Inter Milan

- Jacob Klinger

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