Sunday, 24 March 2013

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Sporting lisbon 5

(After Extra Time)

This match had already given us plenty of unpredictability and excitement to warm the cockles on a chilly East London evening - seven goals, two penalties and lots of flair - but we still hadn’t seen the best of it. 

In the second period of extra time in this thrilling NextGen quarter-final, out of absolutely nowhere, a young Cameroonian defender by the name of Atud Fokobo strode forward onto a dropping ball 45 yards from goal and, without allowing any other possibility to enter his mind, let fly. 

Usually in this situation, the defender would launch the ball into the nearby canal and the whole stadium would have a hearty laugh. But not Fokobo - he leathered the ball with flawless techniques and precision, it ripped through the air and left Spurs goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux gawping as it sailed clean over his head. Not bad for a centre-back.

For those not in the know, the NextGen Series is like the European Champions League but for under-19 sides. It is played all over the continent just like the real version but unlike it’s bigger brother this year, still has some English interest.

At present, two of the four sides through to the semi-finals, to be played on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy next weekend, are English - Chelsea and Aston Villa - and there could be another when Arsenal host CSKA Moscow this Monday. 

Spurs will be absent though, beaten by a technically accomplished and, in the end, fitter, Sporting Lisbon side at Brisbane Road. 

Like the Youth Cup, we’re going big on the NextGen (it is an exciting competition after all, with scorelines of this nature pretty common) and so I was in the press box on match report duty. It couldn’t have been better practice for the hair-pulling, keyboard-battering fury that football journalists often experience when meeting their deadlines.

The Champions League final of 1999 it wasn’t, of course, but I did write three versions of my online match report. The first from about the 75th minute when it looked a certainty that Spurs were heading out; another in the early part of extra time when the hosts, having come back from 3-1 down, suddenly seemed the only winners; and the final whistle version seen here.

Sporting Lisbon are the magical conveyor belt that produced the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo, and while nobody shone quite like they did at this age, there were a few decent talents on the teamsheet.

Number seven (of course) Ricardo Esgaio was one of them, blessed with pace, imagination, vision, crossing and the expected sackful of tricks, he gave the Spurs defence a torrid evening until he ran out of steam in the extra period. 

The London side didn’t help themselves, in fact their dodgy defending cost them any chance of getting through. The pattern for the evening was started after six minutes - a high ball from the Sporting right had goalkeeper Vigouroux looking like a frightened rabbit in the Orient floodlights and the lively Alberto Coelho improvised with a lovely lob into an unguarded net. 

I’d only just made a note of that when Spurs equalised through right-winger Nathan Oduwa, who pounced on an uncleared ball in the Portuguese defence and hammered it home. The dye had been cast for a memorable evening. 

Esgaio then showed one of his many breaks into space, surprising given his side of the pitch resembled a sand pit, and crossed on a sixpence for Coelho to poke home his second at the near post. 

Gareth Bale-lookalike Kenny McEvoy had a couple of chances to equalise for Tottenham, but they lacked any cutting edge and looked dead and buried when Vigouroux clattered Joao Palhinha in the head after again misjudging a high ball. 

My goodness, with everyone expecting Sporting to come with flair, trickery and intricate passing to play their opponents off the park, they were at least intelligent enough to realise that straightforward long-ball was equally as effective. Ruben Semedo converted the penalty immaculately and I was looking forward to an early night. 

HOWEVER. From nowhere, Tottenham remembered what was at stake and got a second wind. They were awarded their own penalty when Shaquile Coulthirst was hacked down from behind and Laste Dombaxe converted it.

Then, with the last kick of the match, substitute Roman Michael-Percil was alert to tuck the ball home after goalkeeper Mickael Meira did his own dodgy keeper impression and dropped the ball at his feet. 

The press pack braced themselves for another half hour and the consensus was that Spurs, with the momentum of the late fightback, would prevail. Wrong, five minutes in, Alexandre Guedes turned and fired a shot from outside the box that Vigouroux seemed to misjudge and Sporting led 4-3.

Fokobo’s thunderbolt from the blue settled it and they’ll now play Aston Villa over in Italy on Friday. Phew, what an exciting one. 

Next Match: Returning home for my birthday this weekend, so Boston United against Bradford Park Avenue in the Conference North at York Street.