U9’s and U11’s Take on ‘The Big Boys’ of Europe
Read Head of Academy Operations Tom Pell’s latest blog from the Cambridge United Under 9’s and Under 11’s recent tour to Germany.
“Friday 22nd May saw two age groups travel to different parts of Germany to take in two top class European tournaments.
Adam Bridgeford and Marc Tracy took the Under 9’s to Leverkusen whilst Dom Knighton and myself took the Under 11’s to Solingen near Dusseldorf.
The U9 group had an early start with a 6am meet at Stansted whilst the U11’s had a leisurely travel down to Gatwick in the club minibus from the Abbey.
For several of the U9’s it was their first European Tour experience and one that brought obvious excitement and the odd few nerves. Some of the boys have been away with us before but not on a plane to a different country so it would be interesting to see who was going to cope without mum and dad to help.
Meanwhile the U11s didn't get off to the best of starts as we suffered a two and a half hour delay at Gatwick! Never mind and although not ideal they will face problems on and off the pitch throughout the weekend this is just another we had to try and solve!
While the U9's had a walk through the City of Cologne to see the Cathedral and all of the lovely scenery, the U11’s were still stuck at Gatwick where we decided to take advantage of the time given to us by getting a meal in our bellies to make sure the pasta dish filled us up with plenty of carbs for the day’s play tomorrow.
I know Adam and Marc were keen to do all of the things we have been doing with the boys over the years on their first tour in regards to setting guidelines to follow, speaking about how they should conduct themselves, what and when to eat, what to drink and how to live your life as a young footballer in order to give yourself the best chance of performing at their maximum level against some of the best clubs across Europe!
The U9 group prepared for Saturday’s tournament with an early afternoon session at a local park and following a meeting and food it was time for bed following their early morning.
The U11’s were not so fortunate following their delays in the UK, so decided to go to bed early to allow for a good night’s sleep and get up so we could have an extensive warm up the next day.
Saturday was the first day’s play for both ages!
The U9’s started against Ford Niehl and started well with a 2-1 win. This was shortly followed by a 5-0, and 4-0 victory against TSV Dachua and AZSV Aalten from Holland respectively.
Their next fixture would prove to be their biggest test of the weekend as they faced a very good FC Koln side. The first five minutes of the game were a big wake up call for the boys and the difference in quality from them compared to the previous teams was like chalk and cheese. The game ended 1-5 to FC Koln who would eventually go on to win the tournament!
That result meant the lads needed four points from the last two group games in order to qualify in second place in the group. This was achieved with a 4-1 win against Mariedorfer and drawing 2-2 with Sparta Prague from the Czech Republic.
The lads were through to the Gold Round where they would face some of Europe’s elite, beginning with VFL Bochum in their final game of the day. Following a positive start in which we took a 2-0 lead, the German side fought back to earn a 2-2 draw.
Adam was extremely pleased with how the boys coped on their first day of their very first tour on European soil. The lads were very much looking forward to getting their teeth stuck into the following days action.
When the U11’s woke up and attended breakfast it was interesting to see lots more British faces from Brighton & Hove Albion, Luton Town, Liverpool and Arsenal. The big named clubs continued upon arriving and first up for the U’s was Borussia Dortmund.
Although the lads got the tactics spot on for three quarters of the game, with four minutes to go the German giants struck two in off the post from 20 yards and this was followed by a third when we were chasing the game hard, meaning the tournament started with a defeat for the older group.
If the lads hadn’t already realised how high the standard was to go through the group, then this game had certainly given them the taste they needed!
Next up were FSV Bissingen and a 1-0 victory for the U’s got our first points on the board which we were all hopeful we could then build on!
We faced NJS from Finland in our third game and a 2-0 win this time meant that going into our final group game, a win would see us finish 2nd behind Borussia Dortmund and through to another qualifying group as the tournament hosted 150 teams!
Although the standard of the opposition on this occasion was not great, the lads used it as practice and after the first goal went in the United boys put on a bit of a show to run out 7-0 winners.
That result meant the U11’s now progressed through to the next stage where they faced Gallaba from Azerbaijan and an exciting fixture against Liverpool FC. The boys got off to a perfect start against Gallaba with a comfortable 2-0 victory, meaning a win against the young Merseyside outfit would again ensure the U;s progressed through their qualifying group.
After missing several good chances against the Reds the game ended 0-0, which meant our fate in the Champions Cup rested on Liverpool’s final game against Gallaba. A draw in that meant we were tied on four points with Liverpool. Unfortunately we missed out on goal difference, which although was disappointing to take at the time is a good lesson for all the lads about taking your chances in tournament football.
By missing out on the Champions Cup, we were in the Gold Cup (there was a Silver and Bronze as well due to having so many teams) and first up were Champions League finalists Juventus for the U’s. We started extremely slowly and found ourselves 1-0 down from a set piece. We grew into the game and got better as it went on but left it to late and succumbed to the classic style of Italian play with the game finishing at a solitary goal to nil.
That was the end of play for Saturday and although it was a busy day, it was extremely enjoyable for the boys and also for the staff to see which players could cope when out of their comfort zone! Time to see what the next day brings.
On Sunday the U9’s were going straight from the tournament venue to the airport after the game, so another early start was on the cards. Following showers, breakfast and a spot of bag packing they were heading to the tournament to pit their wits against the rest of the ‘Gold’ teams.
The Gold Round would prove to be a step up in class and this was noticeable in our first game versus Austria Vienna, which although we were happy with performance wise, the result ended in a 2-3 defeat. With just one point from two games in the Gold Round we needed to make the possession count a little bit more in the final Gold Group games.
The lads responded brilliantly to this, first beating Hammerby IF from Sweden by two goals to one, before seeing out a 1-0 victory over PAOK Saloniki from Greece.
The lads had given themselves a brilliant chance of getting through to the knockouts and needed a win by three goals against German giants FC Schalke.
It seemed the boys had done the unthinkable, 3-0 up with five minutes to go but a late consolation goal for Schalke ended our challenge. Although the boys had finished joint top, we were out on goal difference.
A harsh lesson for the boys but with that single goal knocking them out, the message from the staff was to learn from this experience, so that should this opportunity arise again they could deal with the situation better.
Disappointed to not go through, the highest the lads could finish now was ninth and this was the target set by the coaches.
Fortuna Dusseldorf were the first team to stand in the way of our new target and they were beaten by the U’s with a 2-1 victory.
In our 9th or 10th place play-off game we played a tough outfit in the form of Dynamo Berlin. A clean sheet and two goals from the lads from the Abbey Stadium meant that we finished ninth, which when you consider there were 77 teams competing, was a great achievement for the boys.
They have set themselves extremely high standards throughout the season and it was great for us to see these maintained in an environment which will have tested them more than any throughout the season, given the fact they were abroad with no parents and general support other than the coaching staff.
Sunday for the U11’s started with a game against Austria Vienna who would go onto win the Gold Cup and we started slowly again like the previous day and suffered a 0-2 defeat. In all honesty the score line flattered the Austrians, but with few chances between the two sides they took theirs and unfortunately we couldn’t put ours away.
The last game of the second phase group was to be against Hallescher, who we have faced many times at different age groups in many of the indoor tournaments we attend. The lads performed extremely well and although the game only finished 1-0 to the U’s, we were very happy with the performance.
Due to only having three points from a possible nine, the lads no longer had a chance of winning the Gold Cup but did have three games left and we wanted to finish the weekend strongly, which we did winning 1-0 versus KUPS, 5-0 versus Patterson and 3-0 against Gallaba again!
Although in terms of our placement we were left a little disappointed, Dom and myself as well as the players were quite pleased with our general performances and with a little more cutting edge in the final third could and should have finished in a better position. However this is the life of a football team when results matter, not like what the boys experience every week when solely the performance and development is monitored.
One of the PSV Eindhoven coaches came over as we swapped pennants and he commented on our style of football and being ‘lovely on the eye’ so I think this was a small consolation for the boys!
It was a fast return home following the end of play, as we showered, got a lift to the airport, ate and then flew back to Gatwick for a 50 minute flight! The life of a 10 and 11-year old hey!
The U9’s had a slightly later flight home so were fortunate enough to stop off at Bayer Leverkusen’s ground on the way back to the airport which they really enjoyed.
Safe to say that lots of the lads have had an educational, enjoyable and excellent weekend playing against some of top clubs in Europe!
Next up for the Academy boys is the U10’s who travel to Verl, Germany to play in the Sportlife U10’s Cup this coming weekend. We hope to end the 2014/15 season with a great tour and you’ll be able to hear all about it upon our return.
Thanks for reading and I hope that with little action on the pitch for the first team at the moment, the Academy boys are giving you all your Cambridge United fix.”