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Lads gear up for Sporting challenge

The latest stage of our NextGen Series challenge takes place on Wednesday evening as we take on Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon in the quarter-finals.

And our supporters are welcome to cheer on the youngsters at the match at Leyton Orient’s Matchroom Stadium, kicking off at 7pm.

It promises to be an exciting contest against two attack-minded sides, with a place in the semi-finals at stake for the winners. Sporting are clearly a dangerous outfit as they proved by their 4-0 demolition of Liverpool in the Last 16, while they topped their group in the previous stage of the competition, although did suffer a heavy 5-1 defeat to Aston Villa along the way.

In comparison, we finished as one of the best third-placed teams in the group stage to qualify for the knockout stages. However, the two teams above us in our group – Barcelona and Anderlecht – both lost in the Last 16 to Chelsea and Olympiacos respectively, while we enjoyed a penalty shoot-out victory away to Paris St Germain, who were ranked as the number one team going into the knockout round.

That just proves how competitive a tournament this year’s NextGen Series is and Academy Manager, John McDermott, is full of praise for the team’s efforts so far in the competition.

“First of all I’m delighted we have got through to the quarter-finals,” he said. “Every game we have played so far in this tournament has been extremely difficult and extremely demanding. That was certainly the case over in Paris, where we played really well in the first half, but they were the better team in the second.

“It was a stalemate in extra time and then we won through on penalties. It was a fantastic European football experience for the players and one they will certainly benefit from.”

We can expect another tough tie against Sporting on Wednesday, but John insists the focus in the build-up will be on our qualities rather than the strength of the opposition. With the match coming during an international break, both sides could be missing key players while one or two others who have played regularly in the tournament have gone out on loan and won’t be available.

“We’ve played against Sporting in previous tournaments two or three years ago and they have always been a very good side,” John added. “They will be a highly competent team which is what you want at this stage of the competition, two teams who have their foot fully to the floor, showing what they can do. But like with other matches, we won’t over-analyse what they can do, we will concentrate on our game.

“Both teams will have players away with their countries, while we have players like Alex Pritchard who are out on loan. Obviously he would have helped our team if he was here, but playing on loan at Peterborough United in the Championship is better for his development and that’s what we are here for at the end of the day.

“We are trying to produce players for the first team, so if we can get youngsters out on loan to cut their teeth in as hard a football environment as possible, then that’s great. And the knock-on effect of that is that someone else will get the chance to come in and play against Sporting to show what they can do.

“Whoever plays for either side, I’m quite sure it will be a great advert for youth football.”

The venue for this season’s NextGen Series semi-finals and finals has been confirmed as being at Lake Como in Italy, with is another great incentive for the players on Wednesday and John is delighted our youth teams are in such good form at this stage of the campaign.

“At the moment, we are doing really well in the Under-21s league and the Under-18s are playing well too, we’ve got the NextGen quarter-finals and then we are off to the Aegon Tournament in Ajax soon, where we will come up against teams such as Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax and teams from Brazil.

“We had the disappointment of the youth cup but we are in contention for every other tournament which makes for a fantastic March and April. If we reach the semi-finals of the NextGen, it will cause chaos with our fixture programme but that’s what happens when you are successful at any level.”