Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Your friendly neighborhood UEFA NextGen report

Teenagers. Being the walking volcanoes of untameable hormones and angst that they are, naturally, they are highly unpredictable. Put 22 of them on a pitch, give them a ball, some fans, and a referee crew? The humanity!

Aston Villa took on Marseille Wednesday night as hosts, champions of Group 3, and owners of the second-best defensive record in the inaugural NextGen Series. As if that wasn't enough, midfield string-puller extrordinaire Gary Gardner took some time off from breaking into the first team - he started in last Saturday's 3-2 win over Wolves - to pursue European glory with his Under-19 teammates.

Marseille, to their credit, finished only three points worse than Barcelona in Group 1, even beating the Catalans 4-2 at home. Though a second-choice team closed out the group at Parkhead, losing 3-0, they will have entered their quarterfinal hardly assuming the role of plucky underdogs.

Villa did quickly put their stamp on the match, buoyed by the 3,500 or so fans in attendance they largely dictated the first period of play. The Claret and Blue - the ones in Birmingham - created a number of chances, but as an old coach once told me, "When you don't win, you lose." He was a tennis coach, so we was right in the original context.

Regardless, the same zen prophecy logic applied to Villa as eight minutes from the half Marseille nicked the hosts with a neatly flicked-in header from Gadi. And that's when the non-winners started to lose. Marseille cotrolled the remainder of the half, only for Villa to come out storming again in the second. It was all in vain until, and I hate to compare goals to historic goals, but when Gardner swooped in to bury a rebound to equalize in the 90'+4 minute it was hard not to think of Landon Donovan's heroics against Algeria last summer, especially when one considers Gardner's place in the squad.

Still, Marseille were galvanized by all the goals on the night and they responded with some serioues pressure of their own. It was hardly pretty, but Bioff Omrani's scrambling home of a shot-cum-cross sealed the deal for the visitors.

As an aside, is the whole 'Captain Marbles' thing a comic book reference or am I just not anglophilic enough to get this one?

As unpredictable as the tournament has been, the Catenaccio that Inter Milan brought to take on the prolific attack of Sporting CP - six games, 20 goals, you decide - surprised no one.

And so in their customary 4-3-3, Sporting took to trying to burrow through Inter's well-constructed semi-bunker. The Sporting attack lacked the requisite bite however, and many will point to the absence of the seemingly Liverpool-bound Joao Carlos Teixiera.

Inter were successful in restricting Sporting's attacks to the wider realms of the pitch and in classic Italian fashion, it paid off. In the 57th minute, one of a few Inter corners found the head of Daniel Bessa and then, the back of the net. The hosts pressed on (and on) but it was not to be. As in the Villa game, the dominant hosts suffered in front of goal and will now eagerly await a berth in the competition next year.

Unfortunately I could not get my hands on a highlight clip for the match. I got the full match instead and if you watch the whole thing below, by the time you're done, there should be a new NSC post for you to read!

The bottom half of the draw promises some truly delectable match-ups as Liverpool travel to White Hart Lane to take on Spurs on Wednesday and Ajax travel to Barcelona a week later for what will henceforth be referred to as the Cruyff Derby.

"No, WE have the best academy of all time!" ... "Nuh-uh! ..."

- Jacob Klinger


chalaron said...

I think Captain Marbles is a portmanteau combining Captain Marvel and Marbles in reference to "balls". Maybe the announcer just said the wrong thing though. lol.

Jacob Klinger said...

Your guess is as good as mine. The Beatles referred to Captain Marvel in "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," which oddly enough, never really continued after that :/

But yeah, that's all I've got.