By Stefanus Ian/Red Sports. Photos by Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports
Sadik Said (Singapore #4) slides in to dispossess his Juventus opponent of the ball. (Photo 1 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Jalan Besar Stadium, Wednesday, June 22, 2011 — The Singapore U15s failed to capture top spot in Group A as they went down 1-2 against the Italian boys of Juventus FC U15. Juventus opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark to lead 1-0 going into the break. Singapore equalized through an own goal by Juventus’ skipper in the 62nd minute. A draw would have been enough to propel them to the top of the table but they could not keep their cool late on in the game, conceding a crucial goal as well as receiving a red card.
Both sides went into the match having already booked their place in the semi-finals with one win apiece. It was no wonder then that Singapore U15s coach Dejan Gluscevic sent out a team slightly different from their first match. The Serbian took Muhelmy Suhaimi (Singapore U15 #8) and Irfan Iezran (Singapore U15 #9) out of the starting 11, bringing in Raja Ahmad Zaki (Singapore U15 #15) and Faridzuan Fuad (Singapore U15 #17), who scored the winning goal in the opening match against Newcastle U15. However, he was adamant that the change was needed to face the Italians’ different style of play.
“Winning or losing a game is a question of domination. We had to change the players to dominate in every game. I am pleased with my players’ performance. We tried everything, to outsmart, outrun and beat the opponent but the great Italian defense was hard to beat,” saod Gluscevic.
Both teams played cautiously in the opening exchanges. Singapore was finding it hard to get into their usual passing rhythm with many misplaced passes early on. Singapore were having slightly more possession of the ball but they hardly looked dangerous. Their first real chance came from a short corner by Zulfadhmi Suzliman (Singapore U15 #7) which allowed Adam Swandi (Singapore U15 #10) to send a low cross for Azhar Ramli (Singapore U15 #11). Azhar’s shot, however, was blocked by the foot of the Juventus goalkeeper.
Despite their young age, the players from both sides displayed tenacity as the tackles came in fast and hard. The Italians got their first booking of the game in the 22nd minute when Andrea Giannarelli (Juventus FC U15 #8) cynically pulled Amirul Azmi (Singapore U15 #6) down to the ground.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 32nd minute when a lob by the Juventus midfield was controlled superbly by Nicholas Varetto (Juventus FC U15 #9). His marker could not close him down fast enough as he dribbled into the box before unselfishly sliding the ball to Andrea Marra (Juventus FC U15 #16) who finished clinically into the bottom left corner of the goal.
Singapore struggled to come up with an answer as the Italians displayed great tactical awareness by committing very timely fouls to nullify Singapore’s usually effective counter-attacks. The Cubs went into the break trailing 1-0.
It was much of the same in the second half despite Singapore shuffling the positions of some of their attackers. However, Singapore caught a break in the second half as Juventus scored an own goal, handing Singapore a lifeline. In the 62nd minute, Juventus’ skipper Niccolo Guiducci (Juventus FC U15 #4) headed a harmless looking lob over his onrushing keeper into his own goal, sending the spirited Singaporean supporters to cloud nine. He admitted later that it was a miscommunication between him and his custodian.
“It was a mix-up as I did not hear my goalkeeper’s call for the ball but I told myself to put it behind me and continue playing,” said Guiducci.
The game seemed poised to end in a draw but in the last five minutes, the Singapore boys imploded. After making a goal-line save earlier in the 70th minute, Ehvin Sasidharan was trying to close the game out by bringing the ball to the corner flag hoping to get a throw in. However, a foul was called and it proved to be costly when Heirul Suhanes (Singapore U15 #1) uncharacteristically spilled the ball after catching the resulting free kick. The Italians did not need a second invitation as Fabio Gili (Juventus FC U15 #7) smashed the ball in from point blank. Although the shot was deflected, the keeper never stood any chance.
The Italians’ goal celebration was marred by some controversy when Stefano Antezza (Juventus FC U15 #10) was sent off for illegally entering the pitch. The red card reduced the boy to tears as he was led away to the locker room. The Juventus team manager later commented after the match: “Rules are rules, but I felt that it was a bit harsh but we accept everything. But I can tell you the boy was really crying his eyes out after that.”
The night was about to get much worse for the Singaporeans. In the last few minutes of the game, Sadik Said (Singapore U15 #4), already on a yellow card, lost his cool as he tried to kick the ball even when a Juventus player was lying on the ball. The referee did not hesitate to show Sadik his second yellow card before flashing the red. The sending off virtually destroyed any hopes of a comeback by the Cubs.
Despite the protests of the coaches after the game, both Sadik Said and Stefano Antezza will sit out their respective semi-final matches against Flamengo and Singapore U16.
Amirul Azmi, the Singapore U15 skipper of the night, was gracious in defeat.
“Not every time you can win, sometimes you lose, but we can take this opportunity to learn from different opponents because different opponents have different styles. We have great coaches who give us tactics which we can use to overcome our opponents and we will try to use that tactic, apply it and defeat our opponent. The most important thing is the team has to try our best and keep on going.
“This match would act as a motivation for us to do better and I would also like to thank Juventus for a great challenge because it is a great exposure and we learnt a lot from them,” said Amirul.
Singapore U15 Lineup
Heirul Suhanes (#1), Ehvin Sasidharan (#2), Mahathir Azeman (#3), Sadik Said (#4), R Aaravin (#5), Amirul Azmi (#6), Zulfadhmi Suzliman (#7), Adam Swandi (#10), Azhar Ramli (#11), Raja Ahmad Zaki (#15), Faridzuan Fuad (#17)
Juventus FC U15 Lineup
Entonjo Elezaj (#12), Federico Crepaldi (#2), Andrea Pagliasso (#3), Niccolo Guiducci (#4), Fabio Gili (#7), Andrea Giannarelli (#8), Nicholas Varetto (#9), Stefano Antezza (#10), Lorenzo Benucci (#11), Gianluca Tartaglia (#13), Andrea Marra (#16)
Juventus goalkeeper Entonjo Elezaj (#12) pulls off a spectacular save. (Photo 2 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
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