An NSC FYI: the tardiness of this post is my fault, not Jacob's...
When you think of elite player development, no two clubs come to mind more quickly and vibrantly than Barcelona and Ajax.
Rightfully so. Seven of the 11 players Pep Guardiola started against Osasuna on Saturday came out of La Masia with five of his seven substitutes also having come through the club's system.
The Ajax academy served as the model for Barcelona's. If Van der Sar, Bergkamp, Sneijder, and van der Vaart don't ring any bells then you probably haven't watched much soccer in the past 20 years. The 1974 Dutch World Cup team featured six Ajax players in its 22-man squad, plus Cruyff, the crown jewel of Ajax academy alumni. Johan Cruyff, one of the all-time greats, was also the man responsible for replicating the Ajax system at Barcelona. With that in mind, when the two teams' Under-19 sides met at the Mini Estadi in the NextGen quarterfinals Wednesday there was an element of history being made.
The "S" of Ajax's TIPS development system stands for speed and it showed against Barcelona. For all the technical ability of the two teams, it was direct speed that broke the nearly hour-long deadlock. A timely clearance from Mickey van der Hart was flicked into the path of Viktor Fischer, who outstripped his marker before ruthlessly finishing at the far post.
Both teams had started the match in high-pressing Total Football mode and the second period began in much the same fashion. It was a sight to behold, and even after Ajax opened the scoring Dongou was almost immediately a touch away from equalizing. The sides exchanged elegant cavalry charges with the hosts, Barcelona, looking slightly more in control.
Yet in a rare moment in which Barca took their collective foot off the pedal, some lax defending saw Rowenden Schoop collect the ball and coolly put away Ajax's second.
Barcelona pressed on, but Ajax were steady in defense and well-positioned to counter into possession of their own. When play resumed after a long break in from an awkward injury to Schoop, Ajax settled into some trademark pass, move, and cross that ended with Fischer putting the third and final nail in Barcelona's coffin.
The match always had the look of an American football game where the last team to have the ball wins. Unfortunately for Barcelona, this was not the case. The true difference was in defense. Ajax's through balls were deflected or mishandled into assists whereas Barcelona's were cut out and turned into Ajax possession. And goals.
You can watch highlights here ...
... and the full match here:
-Ajax will meet Liverpool at Anfield in the semis on a date to be determined.
-The winner will take on the winner of Inter-Marseille in the final.
-All of the semifinalists were runners-up in the group stage.
-Ajax's Davy Klaassen is the leading scorer amongst players still in the tournament with four goals to his name.
- Jacob Klinger