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Youngsters fall at final hurdle in NextGen Series

Posted on 16 May 2016  - 19:18

Our Academy suffered NextGen Series final heartbreak in Amsterdam on Monday afternoon (May 16).

Zenon Stylianides on the ball against Ajax Cape Town in the finalFilip Lesniak in action against Ajax Cape TownThe lads line up before the finalMarcus Edwards on duty in the semi-final against AjaxAlfie Whiteman makes a brave aerial challenge against Ajax

After Will Miller’s strike gave us a 1-0 victory over Dutch giants Ajax in the semi-finals during the morning, we conceded two route-one goals in the last game against Ajax Cape Town to lose 2-0 – the same scoreline by which we lost to them in the group stages over the weekend – and finish as runners-up in the competition.

Coach Matt Wells said the manner of the goals conceded was of particular disappointment following a solid tournament campaign.

“Sometimes in these situations in a final it becomes a penalty box game where you have to make excellent decisions at both ends of the pitch, be ruthless and clinical, but their first goal highlights the fact that we didn’t do that,” he reflected.

“It was a long ball over the top from the goalkeeper and the situation in which we conceded should never happen. We’ve got our lines slightly wrong and they’ve gone 1-0 up as a result. We still had 20 minutes to respond but the second goal a few minutes later – a similar sort of goal – was a real blow.

“You’ve got to be experts in both penalty boxes in matches like this and in three out of the five games here we’ve done just that. That’s why we’ve kept three clean sheets and created and scored our chances. Unfortunately, though, in the final we didn’t show enough concentration in those moments to grind out a win so it amounts to a disappointing end to the competition for us.”

As was the case in the group stage, Monday’s matches were played over two 25-minute halves at the Olympic Stadium.

Our best chance of the first period in the final came when Miller sent in a set piece and Christian Maghoma missed the target with a near post header.

Kazaiah Sterling went close shortly after the interval before Ajax Cape Town took the lead on the half-hour mark with the simplest of goals. Custodian Jody February kicked the ball upfield, it bounced once in our territory, Leo Thethani ran onto it and lobbed advancing goalkeeper Alfie Whiteman.

Four minutes later it was 2-0 as we lost possession cheaply on half-way and Thethani was again on hand to lob Whiteman as he rushed off his line.

Marcus Edwards, later voted as one of the tournament’s Most Valuable Players, tried to flick home when well placed shortly afterwards but failed to connect properly with the ball before blazing over the bar from a tight angle on the right a few minutes later. Ultimately, though, there was no way back for us and Ajax Cape Town lifted the trophy.

Earlier in the day we saw off Ajax 1-0 in the semi-finals. Edwards went close early on while Whiteman saved well from Markus Bay before Miller produced a fine finish following Shayon Harrison’s cut-back to give us an 18th-minute lead.

Ajax upped their game in the second period but we stayed strong at the back to progress into the final.

“We were delighted to win that game,” said Matt. “It was a massive scalp to beat them on their own turf and the especially pleasing thing was the manner in which we did it. The first half in particular was a dominant footballing performance where we really showed our identity and our style.

“We scored a brilliant goal through Will Miller and Ajax had to revert to a 4-3-3 after starting with a unique 3-4-3 formation, although the second half was probably more even. Towards the end they put a little bit of pressure on but it was in those moments that we showed our resilience. Both centre-halves, Christian Maghoma and Anton Walkes, were excellent, Kyle Walker-Peters and Joe Muscatt at full-back defended the far post well and showed good determination to stop crosses coming into the box and also Alfie Whiteman made a fantastic save at 0-0 having seen the ball late before showing real presence in coming for a dangerous-looking set piece towards the end of the game.”

Spurs (v Ajax, semi-final): Whiteman, Walker-Peters, Muscatt, Lesniak, Maghoma, Walkes, Edwards (J Pritchard 34), Stylianides, Harrison, Miller (Sterling 46), Goddard (Duncan 34).

Spurs (v Ajax Cape Town, final): Whiteman, Walker-Peters, Muscatt, Lesniak, Maghoma, Walkes, Harrison, Marsh (Stylianides 30), Sterling (Edwards 30), Miller (Goddard 38), J Pritchard (Tracey 38).