Last month our boys were able to qualify for the Round of 16 of the UEFA Youth League at home after a stunning victory against Juventus. This week our boys headed to the legendary Estadio Metropolitana in Madrid for a showdown with Atlético Madrid. In Karetsas and Decresson, coach Poccognoli dropped two 15-year-olds into the starting line-up. But with Tuur Rommens and Ibrahima Bangoura, Poccognoli could also count on sufficient experience from Jong Genk. Objective: a place in the quarterfinals against AC Milan.
Our boys seemed a little overawed with the occasion; after barely two minutes, Raihani went down in the area after a duel with Kongolo, earning a penalty which Niño converted for the 1-0. However, our lads responded almost immediately. Decresson was nicely found on a long ball by Kos and crossed from the right. Nuozzi was just short of tapping in an equaliser. Contrary to Diego Simeone's well-known tactics, the hosts did not withdraw, which saw the game go back and forth. After fifteen minutes we narrowly escaped it becoming 2-0. Kongolo completely misjudged a long ball, but Al Mazyani was able to clear Raihani's effort off the line.
As the first half progressed, our Genkies pinned Atlético more and more on their own half. After a nice combination, Kos was clearly fouled in the penalty area, but unlike earlier at the other end, the Cypriot referee saw no problem this time – it was simply incomprehensible. Bangoura slipped at the other end, and Raihani was able to finish easily. Our boys had to recover, but they didn't get much time. Niño's shot hit the far post, but Gonzalez followed it up well and scored the third goal of the evening for the hosts. Five minutes from the break, the game was all but sealed when Rommens mis-controlled a dribble in his own area, and Boñar had a simple finish. This was how our lads went into the break behind by a heavy 4-0 scoreline. We didn't deserve this.
After the break, Pocognoli made a triple substitution. Arabaci, Swerts and Rotundo replaced Martens, Akpan and Nuozzi. The first chance after the break also fell to our Genkies, but Rommens' shot from the edge of the area was too central to trouble the Spanish goalkeeper. Further into the second half it was again our Genkies who largely would keep possession of the ball. On the hour Rommens played a long ball for an eager Arabaci on the left flank. Kos missed what was a sharp cross by a hairsbreadth, but the substitute Diaz was surprised at the far post and unfortunately put the ball into his own goal, 4-1. We kept a sharp eye out for dangerous Madrid counters, but unlike in the first half, our defence was now holding its own. The exceptional circumstances did not seem to trouble a lively Karetsas. Anyone who thought that the Olympico he scored earlier in the Al Abtal Cup was a fluke was wrong. This time, however, his attempt failed at the last minute. Our boys kept pressing, even if it was no longer really necessary for Atlético to battle hard. With five minutes left on the clock, Arabaci again was picked out on the left, but Decresson fired over from close range. It was also his last chance in the form of Da Costa another youngster came on to replace him.
After a great campaign, the fairytale run of our U-19s ends in Madrid. But despite what the result suggests, we were far from being outplayed. Technical ingenuity, willpower, and the right spirit; our young players have shown it all. We leave this European campaign with our heads held high and return to Genk.
Starting XI: Chambaere, Caicedo, Al Mazyani, Ndenge Kongolo (Mirisola 74’), Rommens, Bangoura, Martens (Arabaci 46’), Akpan (Swerts 46’), Decresson (Da Costa 85’), Karetsas, Nuozzi (Rotundo 46’)
4’ Niño (penalty) 1-0
28’ Raihani 2-0
31’ Santemaria 3-0
39’ Boñar 4-0
59’ Diaz (own goal) 4-1
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