Boca claim Blue Stars crown
© Foto-net

It was cold and wet on 12 and 13 May 2010 in Zurich for the 72nd Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup, but that did not stop plenty of young talents shining brightly, with Boca Juniors lifting the trophy after squeezing past FC Zurich on penalties.

It rained throughout the tournament and temperatures were more in keeping with November than mid-May, but there was nevertheless a definite hint of FIFA World Cup™ fever at the Buchlern sports ground in Zurich. Plenty of fans braved the elements, and the chants and vuvuzelas were enough to lift the spirits of the cold and rain-soaked youngsters taking part.

The tournament follows a simple formula. The winners of the two groups of five teams meet in the final, with the second-placed teams playing off for third place and so on. The various U-20 teams involved this year had come from far and wide. Alongside the four Swiss regulars (hosts FC Blue Stars, Grasshoppers and FC Zurich and FC Basle), there were Kaizer Chiefs from South Africa, Scottish powerhouses Celtic, Spain's RCD Mallorca, Borussia Dortmund from Germany, Club America from Mexico and of course, Argentina's Boca Juniors.

Boca unbeaten
Boca Juniors showed their quality right from the off, and with a number of Argentinian U-20 internationals in their ranks, including captain and goalkeeper Ramiro Martinez, stand-out defender Jonathan Mazzola and diminutive attacker Joel Acosta, they had little trouble qualifying for the final with wins over Grasshoppers (1-0), Mallorca (1-0) and Basle (2-0).

Group B was a lot tighter. FC Zurich earned their showdown with Boca by defeating Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in their final group match, after previously seeing off Blue Stars 2-0 and drawing 0-0 with Club America. Reigning Swiss champions FC Zurich certainly have some promising youth players in their ranks, including FIFA U-17 World Cup winner Oliver Buff.

Despite that defeat, Borussia Dortmund finished the tournament in fifth place after a last-minute wonder goal from striker Victor Huschka gave them a 1-0 win over Grasshoppers.

Group runners-up Club America and Basle then met for a place on the podium, and the Mexicans struggled to cope in the driving rain on what had become a very slippery pitch. Basle, in contrast, made light of the conditions, with Ramon Cecchini, Janick Kamber and Marko Bicvic particularly impressive. The latter, a Croatian U-19 international, failed to take the chances which came his way though, and Granit Xhaka – another FIFA U-17 World Cup winner – was equally frustrated as he failed to find the target with his final balls and shots. As a result, Club America held out for penalties, and they were the ones who ended up securing third place, thanks in no small part to their goalkeeper.

Epic shoot-out
The final between Boca Juniors and FC Zurich was an exciting encounter, but unfortunately goals were as rare as glimpses of the sun. Played over two halves of 25 minutes (the other matches having been 2x20 minutes), there were chances aplenty right from the off. Tolga Mertoglu and Maurice Brunner combined well in the seventh minute but the latter just missed the target with his cross shot. After that, the defences began to take the upper hand, with the Thoma, Djimsiti and Schiendorfer back three dominant for the Swiss team and Naredo, Sastre and Gonzalez equally comfortable for the Argentinians.

Mistakes were few and far between, but midfield maestro Marcelo Canete seized on one in the 20th minute, only to see his inch-perfect lob cleared off the line by Schiendorfer. In the second half, Rodrigo Kuzko was stopped in his tracks by Zurich keeper Rene Borkovic and Sergio Unrein saw his shot from the rebound again cleared off the line. Canete went close with two impressive solo efforts but in the end, the tie went to penalties. And what a shoot-out it proved to be. Twice Boca were only one kick away from winning the tournament, and in the end they grabbed the silverware after each side had taken six penalties.

This is Boca's second Blue Stars trophy after first winning the title back in 2002. The Argentinians certainly have a pool of talent that will serve the team well in the years to come, as is the case for their Swiss, Mexican, German, Spanish, Scottish and South African counterparts.

Final standings: 

1 - Boca Juniors
2 - FC Zurich
3 - Club America
4 - FC Basle
5 - Borussia Dortmund
6 - Grasshoppers Zurich
7 - RCD Mallorca
8 - Celtic
9 - Kaizer Chiefs
10 - FC Blue Stars 

Best player:
Oliver Buff (FC Zurich)

Best goalkeeper:
Ramiro Martinez (Boca Juniors) 

Fair play award:
Kaizer Chiefs