Monday, March 26, 2012

Your friendly neighborhood UEFA NextGen final report

It didn't make sense. Inter Milan left Brisbane Road Sunday evening with the first ever NextGen Series trophy after winning the penalty shootout over Ajax 4-2.

The team that scored nine goals against Barcelona and Liverpool managed only one in two hours of play against the team that opened the competition conceding seven. Yet the latter team was nowhere to be found in the final as the trademark Inter defense held Ajax to a lonely long free kick goal.

Joel Veltman assuredly carried the ball past midfield with a hitch in his stride as if to say "I know what I'm doing, or at least believe that I do" - that's half the battle, no? - his head up, searching for open teammates, but only finding green green grass, dotted here and there with the black and blue of potential obstacles. They were made to look more like cones on skates as Veltman strolled past Daniel Bessa before cutting inside past one defender, then another, before being felled from behind 30 yards from Raffaele Di Gennaro's goalmouth.

Lee Collins blew the whistle. Viktor Fischer stood over the ball menacingly before running right past it, only for Stefane Denswil to follow him, looping his right-footed shot into the near right corner of the Inter goal in stride. There was little Di Gennarro could have done, but Denswil's eqalizer ruined I Nerazzurri's gameplan.

After all, Inter had sat back for most of the first half, looking to counter, much in the same way they shut down Sporting's high-flying attack a month ago. They applied a respectable amount of pressure, but were always more concerned with forcing their opponents wide and picking their spots. It was on one such counter that they got the goal their natural tactics so desperately cried for.

Peccorini muscled Fischer off the ball before sending Bessa on a brief but effective run down the left flank where he found Longo making a near-post run. The connection that Inter have lived and died by this campaign did just enough as Longo slid his left foot around the ball on his first touch, getting just enough on the shot to beat Mickey van der Hart to the far post.

After Denswil's timely equalizer three minutes after halftime, Ajax, and the game itself, opened up. Still, it was always going to be Ajax hogging the ball, especially once Ibrahima M'baye was sent to the locker room with 20 minutes left for an above-the-knee challenge on Veltman.

Lorenzo Crisetig and Denswil exchanged blows to the woodwork as fatigue pried the game open, yet Extra time glory was in the cards for neither as the final came to a penalty shootout.

Neither side blinked to start. Bessa and Denswil gave neither keeper any real hope of saving the first penalties. Joseph Duncan and Klaassen respectively followed suit only for Di Gennaro to guess correctly and save Veltman's penalty and de Bondt's penalties.

Longo's was nearly stopped as well, with Van der Hart getting both hands to it before it made its way to the back of the net. But it was Di Gennaro making the heroic save on De Bondt's attempt just moments later as Inter, improbably and industriously as ever, took home the hardware.

- Jacob Klinger

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