"It's a tournament for the youngsters, so let the youngsters play. Football isn't only something which evokes emotion, it is also a wonderful sport," said FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter as he welcomed guests to the 73rd Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup in Zurich.
Two groups of five U-20 teams competed for a place in the grand final, and as ever the there was little to choose between the sides in terms of quality. As well as the four Swiss participants - FC Blue Stars, FC Zurich, Grasshopper Zurich and FC Thun, the likes of Boca Juniors (Argentina), FC Porto (Portugal), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Maccabi Haifa (Israel), Napoli (Italy) and Red Bull Salzburg (Austria) all made the trip to Switzerland to test their fledgling talents against the best from around the world.
FC Zurich unbeaten in group stage
In Group A, FC Porto and Dinamo Zagreb fought an intriguing battle for top spot. A 3-0 victory over hosts Blue Stars saw Porto get their tournament off to a solid start. Consecutive 1-1 draws with Maccabi Haifa and Grasshoppers followed. Meanwhile Dinamo had to make do with two goalless draws from their opening two matches against Grasshoppers and Maccabi Haifa respectively before a 2-0 win against Blue Stars set up a direct duel for top spot with their Portuguese counterparts. Ultimately a last-minute goal from Rafael Dinis Alves e Silva secured a 2-1 victory for Porto after Dinamo's Alexander William Molano had cancelled out Christian Twasam's opener early in the second half.
FC Zurich dominated proceedings in Group B, scoring nine goals and not conceding any in their four first-round matches. Davide Mariani hit four strikes as FCZ beat Thun (2-0), Napoli (4-0) and Salzburg (3-0) to deservedly claim top spot. The Swiss side's highly-anticipated re-run of last year's final against Boca Juniors ended goalless.
Dinamo Zagreb impress
The match for third place pitted Dinamo Zagreb against defending champions Boca. The Argentinians dictated the game early on but were unable to turn their dominance into chances as Zagreb began to take a hold towards the break. Their pressure continued to build after the restart and was eventually rewarded through Filip Mihaljevic's strike on 24 minutes.
This tournament is a terrific event. The response from the supporters has been great and the organisation top-notch.
Boca fought bravely for an equaliser, but neither a good effort from Kevin Luis Genaro nor Guillermo Mattias Fernandez header were enough to overcome the Croatian side's keeper. Dinamo maintained the ball among their own ranks as the game entered its latter stages and were deserving of their bronze medal by the end.
FC Thun claimed fifth spot with a convincing 3-1 win against Grasshoppers in an all-Swiss encounter. Mathieu Salamand and Ardit Zenuni (2) gave Thun a comfortable three-goal lead before Amar Sabanovic netted a consolation for GC.
"This tournament is a terrific event. The response from the supporters has been great and the organisation top-notch. It's a real highlight not just in Switzerland, but also internationally," FC Thun coach Rudiger Bohm told FIFA.com.
"I'm happy with my team's performance. We were a bit unlucky in the first round. Another goal would have got us into the match for third place, but seeing as it was our first ever appearance at the tournament, we gave a very good account of ourselves."
Smart skills and great goalkeeping
The final between FC Zurich and FC Porto delivered a contest of the highest quality for the spectators, with the Portuguese making it clear from the start that they were out to win the trophy. Yet despite peppering their opponents' box with chances, Porto were not clinical enough in their finishing and were denied several times by Zurich's impressive goalkeeper Rene Borkovic. At the other end, FCZ created a handful of decent opportunities but were also unable to find the net.
After the break the situation remained much the same. As Porto continued to press for an opener, even the majestic dribbling of star player Twasam proved insufficient as the Zurich defence held firm, although the Swiss side did ride their luck five minutes from the end as Porto struck the bar with a header.
Consequently the final had to be decided by way of penalties for the second successive year, and it was Zurich who pulled the short straw in the shoot-out. Ali Imren, Davide Mariani and Marcel Thoma all failed to convert from the spot, allowing To-Ze Pinheiro de Carvalho and Christian Twasam to put Porto 2-0 ahead. When Ricardo Alves Coelho da Silva smacked his against the bar for FCZ, Edu Marques de Castro Silva made no mistake with the decisive penalty to secure Porto's first-ever Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup title.