Guedes 74mins, Estrela 81mins
- Match reports
- 18 March 2014 20:59
- Posted by @porter_mcfc / pics by @VHaydn_MCFC
City u19s bowed out of the inaugural UEFA Youth League at the quarter final stage despite a valiant performance against a strong Benfica side.
The Blues will consider themselves unlucky after dominating the game for long periods and striking the first blow with a sensational strike from Seko Fofana, but two second half goals from the Eagles condemned them to an early exit, with the winner coming against the run of play.
City entered this crucial fixture knowing that they have given a good account of themselves on a tough European stage. The young side negotiated a group comprising the same teams as their senior counterparts, with a 6-0 thrashing of Bayern Munich at Hyde a particular highlight of the early fixtures.
The reward was a tricky away date with Atletico Madrid, but the young Blues proved worthy of a quarter final spot with a resolute performance to protect a precious 1-0 victory, courtesy of a first half goal from Devante Cole.
However, Benfica presented formidable opposition, preserving an unbeaten record up to this stage. The Portuguese side comfortably topped a group containing PSG, Olympiakos and Anderlecht, before thumping Austria Vienna 4-1 on home turf in the round of 16.
For this quarter final clash, Patrick Vieira kept faith with the team that gave such a strong display against Atletico, and made just one change from the side that started in Madrid.
Kean Bryan replaced Thierry Ambrose, which led to an attacking reshuffle – Cole took his place up front, while Marcos Lopes started out wide on the right and Sinan Bytyqi looked to get forward from the opposite flank.
It was a familiar back four of Mathias Bossaerts, Shay Facey, Jason Denayer and Angelino charged with defensive duties, while Billy O’Brien reprised his position between the posts after a fantastic individual performance in Spain last time out.
The boss opted for youth on the bench – all seven of the substitutes started for the under-18s against Wolves last Saturday.
The tie had captured the imagination of the fans, and Hyde was packed to capacity with over 4000 supporters, including Vincent Kompany and Manuel Pellegrini, eager to make home advantage count and cheer the young Blues onto victory.
City rewarded the watching crowd with a bright start, pressing from the front and looking to stretch the visiting defence early on. First, Bytyqi jinked his way through three attempted challenges to feed Angelino, but his cross asked just a little too much of the waiting Lopes in the centre. Then, a fast-paced cross from Denayer did find Bryan, but his volleyed effort was over the bar.
The early pressure paid off, and the Blues were ahead after just 12 minutes with a sublime strike from Seko Fofana, who drove forward through the centre and unleashed a rocket into the top corner.
It might have been two shortly after, with Bytyqi forcing Thierry Graca in the Benfica net into a great low stop at his near post after cutting inside from the left wing.
City were dominant in the early stages but survived something of a scare after 22 minutes, when Benfica countered swiftly from a corner and it was 3 on 3, but George Glendon raced back to avert the danger after correctly reading the pass.
The visitors were constantly seeking to exploit their pace on the counter, but were often frustrated to see their attacks cut out by the quick work of Facey and Denayer, while O’Brien did well to claim a looping ball out of the air.
At the other end, City continued the search for the second goal and were very unlucky not to double their lead when Lopes launched a powerful effort that the goalkeeper could only deflect into the path of Cole. He miscued, but Denayer struck the follow up superbly and it required a fantastic save from the keeper to prevent the Belgian from finding the back of the net.
Vieira’s men were quickest out of the blocks after the break, and Lopes and Bytyqi had chances to score the second, but both narrowly missed the target. Cole was next to try his luck, getting on the end of a cross from the lively Lopes, but his header lacked power to trouble Graca.
As the second half progressed the Eagles grew into the game, and it was City’s turn to soak up some pressure as Benfica harried the defence and forced a number of corners in succession. Goncalo Guedes was quick to seize the ball after an O’Brien error and his attempted shot sizzled across the box, but to the relief of the home fans there was no striker waiting to pounce.
However, the relief was shortlived as Benfica levelled the scores after 74 minutes with a fantastic 25 yard strike from the excellent Guedes leaving O’Brien powerless.
To a backdrop of encouraging roars from the crowd the Blues renewed their efforts, and Bryan’s shot was deflected wide, Fofana smacked his effort over the bar and Cole was desperately unlucky to see Graca tip his strike wide of the post.
Cole was a constant menace to the Eagles’ back line and went on a thrilling solo run beyond the line of defence, but his shot hit the inside of the post and rolled agonisingly wide of the target.
The Blues looked to be in the ascendency but there proved a sting in the tail, as Estrela fired home against the run of play after Facey had pulled off a magnificent tackle to concede the throw in.
Refusing to give up, City surged forward repeatedly only to find Graca blocking their way. The goalkeeper was in sensational form all night, and continually thwarted the attempts of Vieira's men, who had 14 shots on target but could not beat the Portuguese stopper for a second time. Lopes and Ambrose could only find the gloves of the young keeper with time running out, while the crossbar denied Lopes directly from a corner.
Alas, it was not to be and Benfica prevailed to win a semi-final berth.
Vieira will be proud of the effort and passion shown by his young charges on this occasion and throughout this European campaign, and no doubt the Blues will return reinvigorated for next year’s challenge.