It is odd to talk about the difference that experience can make in a decisive match when you’re talking about a youth tournament. How much of a psychological edge can a 19-year-old have on his fellow teenagers? Enough to allow him to take over in the second half of a final, break the deadlock with an amazing goal and lead his team to victory?
In the case of Sherko Kareem Gubari, though, there are reasons why he seemed to be a step ahead of everyone else as Grasshopper defeated West Ham United 2-0 to lift the trophy at the 78th edition of the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup in Zurich.
Over the last three years, the striker’s life and career have taken a spin that would toughen anyone’s emotional shield, let alone a teenager. After taking the spotlight at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013, Kareem Gubari moved from his conflict-ridden city of Kirkuk, in Iraq, to the serenity of Zurich, in Switzerland. He’s been a part of the Grasshoppers' senior squad for over a year now and is already set – and excited – to play for Iraq at this year’s Olympic Football Tournament in Rio de Janeiro.
No wonder, then, that when the time came to decide the final against West Ham, the tournament’s eventual adidas Golden Ball winner was ready to perform his marquee move of sliding from the left wing to the middle using his right foot. He did it and followed it with a perfect shot into the top left corner.
“I came into this final eager to score a goal, but the first half was so tight and produced so few chances that I was already a bit frustrated by the time I received the ball there,” Kareem Gubari said, pointing to the corner of the box from where he scored the go-ahead goal. “When I saw I had one small chance to shoot, I thought to myself, ‘It has to be now.’”
It was, and the amazing strike changed the face of what was, until then, a gritty battle and paved the way for the 2-0 win, capped by a Nikola Mijatovic goal. Following up on Luzern’s triumph in 2015, this is the fourth title for a Swiss club over the last five editions of the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup.
“This is particularly meaningful for a country that only recently has climbed up some steps and gained the respect of football’s historic powerhouses,” Grasshopper's head coach Boris Smiljanic said, a Swiss international between 1999 and 2006 and he himself a member of the generation that made strides in earning that respect. “It’s important for the boys to see that they can face teams from England or Germany, teams with good players from these countries, and look them in the eye. It creates an interesting pressure; a positive stress.”
It was clear that the stress was positive, since the Grasshoppers’ path to the title was practically impeccable, having finished atop of Group A with three wins and one goalless draw against FC St. Pauli in their debut. The Zurich team finished the tournament with a remarkable tally of eight goals scored and not a single one conceded.
“We knew that we had the talent, and you only need to look as far as Kareem Gubari’s skills to see that,” Smiljanic said. “It was clear: following a first ten disastrous minutes in the first game against St. Pauli, I realised our team had found its focus and confidence. From then, I knew we would be here lifting the trophy today.”
78th Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup
Runners-up: West Ham United
3rd place: Anderlecht
4th place: FC St. Pauli
5th place: Feyenoord
6th place: FC Luzern
7th place: SL Benfica
8th place: FC Zurich
9th place: FC Blue Stars
10th place: Guangzhou FC
adidas Golden Ball: Sherko Kareem Gubari (Grasshopper)
adidas Golden Glove: Enzo D’Alberto (Anderlecht)
FIFA Fair Play Award: Guangzhou FC