The U19s teams of Manchester United, Liverpool, Sporting Lisbon, and a Singapore Youth Selection were pitted against each other in a tournament on Dec 14 and 16, that produced upsets, goals, and plenty of cavalier football.
The deserved winner of the tournament was the Sporting Lisbon U19, who dispatched a determined Liverpool U19 2-0 in the final thanks to 2 goals from Luka Stojanović and Luiz Cortez.
In 3rd place was the Manchester United U19, who fought back from Sahil Suhaimi’s penalty to beat Singapore 2-1, through Shakir Hamzah’s unfortunate own goal and Mats Daehli’s strike.
While both matches produced plenty of entertainment, few would disagree that Sporting Lisbon – who thrashed Manchester United 4-1 in their first match – was the pick of the bunch.
“Not 1, not 2, but 20 of them will be future stars,” said Sporting’s head coach, Abel Ferreira at the post-match press conference.
“I think the score is ‘small’, because in the first half, we had 4-7 opportunities on goal, while Liverpool had 0. From the start, there was plenty of pressure [even] on the goalkeeper every time we were not on the ball.”
“My players and me work every day to win. It may be a surprise for you, but it isn’t for me,” Abel added.
In addition, his player, 18-year-old midfielder Edelino Iè, was crowned the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. However, Ferreira chose to downplay the efforts of the promising youngster.
“Iè is a fantastic player, but no player is alone. He may be a good footballer, but I can tell you that my players play for the team,” he said. “My players just need one opportunity to play in the first team [to make it big].”
In the final, it was the Portuguese side that dominated most parts of the game, with the first clear-cut chance coming in the 28th minute when captain Carlos Mané’s effort was cleared off the line.
Sporting took the lead in the 45th minute, after Stojanović graced past his man to slot it past Reds goalkeeper Ryan Fulton. The goal seemed to spark the Reds to life, as they strove to find the equaliser with Marc Pelosi, 18, carving out a few chances.
However, the tie was settled in the 89th minute when substitute Cortez showed great touch to receive Daniel Podence’s pass, before empathically finishing it past Fulton to make it 2-0.
On the loss, Liverpool head coach Alex Inglethorpe said: “I though we had moments, but they (Sporting) definitely deserved to win.”
The Singapore Youth Selection, which consisted of an under-21 squad, also didn’t disappoint.
Spurred on by an encouraging performance in their first fixture where they narrowly lost 1-0 to Liverpool through a Samed Yesil backheel, the local side went into the 3rd place play-off full of spirit.
The attacking trio of Safirul Sulaiman, Shahfiq Ghani, and Iqbal Hussain were deadly throughout the game, and they took a well-deserved lead In the 53rd minute when Suhaimi was brought down in the box by Manchester United’s Declan Dalley. The 20-year-old striker stepped up and calmly converted his penalty to make it 1-0.
However, the goal would prove to be the turning point, as an initially lethargic Manchester United turned on the style and equalised in the 66th minute when Singapore’s defender Shakir – who was otherwise rock-solid in the game – accidentally put the ball into his own net.
The Red Devils then took the lead 3 minutes later, when James Weir found Daehli in the box, who coolly curled it past Singaporean goalkeeper Rudy Khairullah. It proved to be the final blow for the Lions, as the match ended 2-1.
Singapore’s head coach Aide Iskandar said: “I have to clearly say that we only had 3 and a ½ weeks to prepare, whereas these other teams have been together since they were young.”
He added, “I think we have to give credit to the boys, we gave United quite a fight… they were the better side.”
Singapore’s captain Raihan Rahman also said, “I think my players did very, very well, and I do not blame the goals on my teammates.”
Manchester United’s head coach, Paul McGuinness said, “In the first half, we were still finding it hard to cope with the heat, and didn’t play it quick enough. [But] if you want to [learn how to] play at the top level of football, you have to play when it’s uncomfortable.
He added, “After half time, they found that they could do it, and mentally, they became more confident… and we did step it up, like the first team had done.”
All photos courtesy of Football Association of Singapore (FAS).