Cambridge United’s Head of Academy Coaching Adam Bridgeford reports on the U’s European triumph, as the Club’s Under 9’s lifted the Fahrmeisterei Junior Cup last weekend.
90 teams began the competition taking place in Leverkusen on Saturday, including Bayern Munich, Bayern Leverkusen, FC Koln, Derby County, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, Olympique Lyon, FSV Mainz, Zenit St Petersburg, Lokomotive Moscow, Hertha Berlin, Watford, 1860 Munich, Werder Bremen and Blackburn Rovers. Amongst these European giants, Cambridge United!
The young U’s set off on Friday for a travel and preparation day ahead of the tournament group stages on Saturday. To qualify out of the group stages and into the Champions Round, teams had to finish top of their group or finish second and qualify through a play-off match.
We started well and managed to stay unbeaten through the group stage up to our last fixture against Hertha Berlin. The side that won this particular fixture would top the group. Unfortunately we lost 2-0, but some vital lessons were learnt that would prepare us for what was to come.
That result meant we faced another German side, St Pauli, in a play-off match to determine who would qualify for the Champions Round. At 2-0 down and the boys chances looked bleak but a determined and gritty performance sparked a comeback and an impressive 5-2 final secured qualification.
Sunday and the Champions Round grouped us with Bayern Leverkusen, Lokomotive Moscow, Austria Wein, and 1860 Munich. The players showed an unbelievable determination and ability to right all the wrongs from the previous day. This desire saw us finish unbeaten and top of the group heading into a quarter final game against VfL Bochum.
Following a closely contested quarter-final which ended 1-1, it came down to a penalty shoot-out to determine a winner. Even here the teams could not be separated as every player took a penalty and some players twice! It was great to see a young Cambridge United player, who was upset after missing his first penalty, score his second to ensure our progression into the semi-finals.
The semi-final presented us with another German outfit, FC Koln, who had looked the red hot favourites for the competition after their form throughout the tournament. However a fast start from the U’s shocked them as we managed to go 2-0 up within the first few minutes. From there Koln had all the play as we had to show our destroying skills to sustain their lead. The pressure was too much however and a late comeback saw the game finish 2-2. Penalties again but the confidence of the last round helped as we won the shoot out to knock out the favourites and book a place in the final.
FSV Mainz were the opponents who stood between us and the trophy. Both teams looked exhausted in the final and it came down to the side who wanted it most. That was only one team, and the focus, determination, and work rate of the young U’s proved to be the difference, as we went on to win 3-0 and become champions!
What an experience for these young players. Whatever these players go on to achieve in football, or in their lives, this weekend will always be remembered with fond memories. It was an intense learning environment and one where the players had to deal with the highs and lows of pressure and emotion. They handled every challenge brilliantly and the weekend was full of ‘accelerated learning’. A fantastic achievement and credit to the players and the staff who have helped recruit and develop this exciting group of young players. Also fantastic for an English team to get some success in a penalty shoot-out in Germany!
We look forward to defending our title next season.