The Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup has acquired a reputation for rainy weather but this year certainly bucked the trend. The sun split the sky as the tournament's many spectators watched the action between 30 April and 1 May, and there were plenty of raised eyebrows when Swiss teams Basel and FC Zurich reached the final. While those outfits contested the main prize, Manchester United, Villarreal, Flamengo and Hamburg jousted for the other honours on offer.
The tone was set on the very first day, with surprises arising from the statistics themselves. No fewer than 32 goals were scored in 12 matches, providing an average of 2.66 strikes per 40-minute game. Much of that attacking success was owed to FC Zurich, who left a strong impression by securing three wins in three matches, including victories over Flamengo and Athens.
For their part, Basel also registered a perfect record, firing six goals in two outings, including a pair of braces for the excellent Pascal Schurpf. Meanwhile, Flamengo failed to inspire and Villarreal proved inconsistent in Group 2, following up their heavy 6-0 loss to Partizan Belgrade by beating European heavyweights Manchester United 1-0.
The following day also unfolded in favour of the Swiss teams. FC Zurich overcame Hamburg SV to guarantee themselves top spot in Group 1, which brought with it a berth in the final. That match also featured a fifth goal for Orhan Mustafi, who finished the tournament as top scorer. Elsewhere, Basel swept past an under-par United side 3-0 and finished top of their section, booking their own place in the showpiece match.
Behind them in the standings, United and Hamburg tussled for
third place overall, with the Red Devils coming out on top 1-0,
thanks in large part to an excellent performance from midfielder
Sam Hewson. The Red Devils captain sounded a note of regret as he
looked back on his team's display, however: "We should
have been more efficient in attack. I myself missed some big
chances that might have made the difference. But, in the end, third
place is good to take."
In the match for fifth place, Villarreal overcame Flamengo 1-0. The Brazilians were perhaps inexperienced at this level, but the smiles on the faces of the players made it clear that they found the experience enriching. "It's always a good thing to take on international sides - you learn a lot," explained winger Lenon after the tournament.
The final itself was a thrilling occasion, with Schurpf firing his fifth of the tournament as Basel twice found the back of the net within the first seven minutes. The contest seemed to be over, but Zurich responded rapidly before the break courtesy of Admir Mehmedi, who struck in the 18th and 20th minutes.
That intense momentum did not let up in the second period, but the home side eventually prevailed thanks to a superb goal registered just five minutes before the end. Mehmedi was the man responsible once again, curling in a fine effort, and he was an emotional figure after the match. "It's incredible," he said. "After the third goal, I had nothing left in my head. It was as if I was dreaming."
For Zurich, it was a first title since 1949, and the signs could
hardly be more encouraging for Swiss football in general.
All the results from the tournament are available on the official website (link on the right).