ACADEMY UNDER 9s: Sportlife Cup
Cambridge United Academy Coach Adam Bridgeford pens a diary from the Under 9s recent tour to Leverkusen.
While the rest of the Academy concluded their season with away fixtures against Manchester United last weekend, the U9s embarked on their first experiences abroad with Cambridge United as they were in action participated in the Sportlife Cup located in Leverkusen.
Friday 13th May
An early start as the players met at Stansted airport at 5.40am. For many this was the beginning of the longest time spent away from their families. However there was a level of great excitement, with all the players highly anticipating the new experiences and challenges awaiting them. With the tournament starting on Saturday, Friday was used as a travel day and a chance to prepare for the tournament.
The players were treated to a behind the scenes tour of Bundesliga giants Bayer Leverkusen’s Bay Arena and training ground, before participating in an afternoon training session. Following a long day it was an early night for the youngsters ready for an bright start the next morning.
Saturday 14th May
Day one of the tournament and we were in a group of six with only the top two teams qualifying for the championship round on Sunday. The coaches turned the pressure on early, setting a clear target to qualify on Sunday in order to earn the chance to take on Europe’s elite.
The players dealt with this expectation incredibly well. They qualified top of their group, undefeated, and without conceding a single goal. Results included a hard fought 1-0 victory over Austrian side Admira Wacker Wien and a very impressive 3-0 victory over FC Schalke 04.
Safely secured into the championship round, the players then enjoyed a relaxed remainder to day two with a spot of swimming before re-energising with a healthy evening meal, a team meeting, and an early night.
Sunday 15th May
The Championship round and once again only the top two out of six teams qualified for the quarter finals. The boys faced many different cultures and playing styles against teams from right across Europe. United’s group consisted of SSV Reutlingen (Germany), PAOK Saloniki (Greece), Locomotive Moscow (Russia), CS Cautis Bucuresti (Romania) and Slavia Prague (Czech). Again the CUFC lads did themselves proud, finish top of the group and comfortably qualifying for the quarter finals.
The quarter finals stages lined us up for a clash with hosts Bayer Leverkusen, who enjoyed plenty of local support. A slow and nervous start to the game in which the nerves perhaps got the better of the boys saw us go two goals behind. However, the boys showed great character to regain the high standards set during the group stages before grabbing a goal back. Despite placing a lot of pressure on the home side during the closing minutes of the match, the game finished 2-1.
That result meant that with two games remaining, the boys were playing for an overall position of 5th-8th in the tournament.
A fantastic response, in which the boys recorded a 4-0 victory over Sparta Prague, saw the U’s through to a 5th place play-off against Bayern Munich. Not a bad fixture to end the tour!
The player’s performance was almost a total polar opposite to the Bayer Leverkusen game and it was extremely pleasing to see lessons had been learnt. A very bright opening to the game earned the U’s a two goal lead. The German giants then piled on the pressure and we were unable to hold out as they scored a last minute equaliser. 2-2 it ended and we had to share joint 5th place with Bayern Munich.
However, with over 100 teams starting the tournament, the young U’s outfit flew back Sunday night very tired but proud of their achievements.