|SYFA West light up Hungarian international youth festival|
Last week saw the SYFA West Region Under 17's (pictured, right) participate in the Intersport Youth Football Festival in Kaposvar, Hungary (15th – 22nd July) for the second year in succession. The Scottish youngsters reached the final, winning 5 of their 6 group games. In the showdown the SYFA were paired with defending champions STB Academy, a professional club's youth team from Italy, who are part of the feeder system for AC Milan. SYFA West lost 2-1 after going ahead 1-0 just before half time. The Italians were so impressed with the attitude and professionalism of the young Scottish Players that they have taken contact details and are looking to invite the SYFA West Region to a training camp in 2013.
Click here for the SYFA West's photo gallery from the tournament.
Day 1 & 2
The players left for the Tournament on the 15th July from Edinburgh Airport. The trip was the culmination of a lot of hard work over the past year. West had taken part in this tournament last year and had been knocked out 1-0 by Pepsci FC from Hungary in the quarter finals. This year the challenge was to go at least one better.
The organisers contacted the Scots to ask if they would again play in the opening game in the stadium. The game was against Club Academia from Venezuela and this was the second year that the honour of opening the tournament had been given to the SYFA West. Whether it was the travelling the day before or just the fact that they were playing in the high profile stadium match, the players seemed to switch off and allowed their opponents to score in the first minute when a ball into the box found an unmarked striker at the back post and he converted. At the start of the second half West lost the ball in defence and were punished by a low drive. With 5 minutes to go a goal by Kieran Duffy pulled back the score but by then it was too late. SYFA West 1-2 Club Academia.
The West continued to play their group games and this time against a local Hungarian outfit Mezga FC. This was a much better performance and pressure from West was soon rewarded when a great through ball from Calvin Smith found Kieran Duffy who continued his scoring streak and blasted past the diving keeper. West had further chances in what was becoming a heated game with the Hungarians becoming frustrated and with West starting to take control.
Owen Sweeney and Thomas Clark were controlling the midfield whilst the defence held firm with both full backs, Gavin Fulton and Kieran Furay playing a supporting role down the wing. Kris Littler and Mark Easton were also controlling the centre of defence. It wasn't until the second half that a ball from Kieran Furay found Thomas Clark and he paced in on goal with a neat side flick sending the keeper the wrong way to score. SYFA West 2-0 Mezga FC.
The next game was against Romanian side FC Junior Targu Mures. West had made some changes to the squad for this game, however they still maintained the same shape and scored through Thomas Clark and Kieran Furay. This was not the easiest of games and the Romanians did dominate for periods in the game and good saves were required from both keepers, Martin McGeachie and Calum Robinson, to keep the lead intact. SYFA West 2-0 FC Junior Targu Mures.
Today the SYFA West only had the one game against FC Angora from Marrakesh, Morocco. Although not a physical game some of the play acting by the Angora players was way over the top and took the shine off what should have been a good game between both teams. Eventually the referee decided enough was enough and started to caution the Angora players for this. In the mean time the West went about their business and it was anther 2-0 win with the first goal coming from Alistair Crawford, when he latched onto a loose ball in the box and fired home from close range.
The next goal by Keiran Todman would have been a strong candidate for goal of the tournament. He had been playing on the right wing and when the ball was cleared from the Angora defence Todman won the ball and drove into midfield. From 25 yards out he struck the ball cleanly and it fired straight into the top left hand corner with the keeper stranded. SYFA West 2-0 FC Angora.
Later that day the players got a chance to relax when they went to the water park and were able to take some time out of the busy schedule to rest and recuperate.
Today the squad played pro youth side KFC Komarno from Slovenia, who had won all 4 of their group games and were pushing to win the group and looking for a place in the final. they had beaten the Venezuelan team that West had lost to in the opener so was today's game a formality for them? West certainly gave them a run for their money and pressed and pressed for the majority of the game, the Slovakians also had spells in the game however some strong challenging in midfield by Oweb Sweeney and Thomas Clark was frustrating the Slovakian players. On the occasions they did get through the West defence saves from Calum Robinson kept West in the game.
With 4 minutes to go it looked as if a draw was on the cards, then a last minute attack by West won a corner. The ball was sent in by Keiran Todman and he found Kris Littler at the back post and he needed to keep his composure as he fired in a drive which went low into the net past the diving keeper to blow the group wide open. SYFA West 1-0 KFC Komarno.
West had a second game that day against Hungarian side Pataloma E SZ SE, who had won only one game in the group against the other local Hungarian side. As goal difference counted in the group it was crucial that not only did West need to win this game but they needed to win it convincingly and also they were playing on a 3rd generation astroturf so there was a great opportunity to play football on this park, the only drawback was that the temperature was 38' and getting hotter.
The surface did suit the Scottish Players, many of whom now trained and played week in week out on this type of surface. It was not long before West took the lead and it was 5-0 at half time. Alistair Crawford, playing in midfield, was able to stay in a forward position and grabbed a hat-trick before having to come off due to the intense heat. A further 7 goals were added in the second half with Nathan Ward also completing his hat trick and Kris Littler double adding to his tally. The other scorers were grabbed by the 4 strikers in the Squad, Keiran Duffy, Calvin Smith, Thomas Clark and Jack Moran. This score confirmed West as group winners and through to the quarter finals. SYFA West 12-0 Pataloma E SZ SE.
The SYFA West played FC SG 2007 Dunjska Streda from Slovakia in the quarter finals. It was a bit cooler, only 34'! The game itself was proving a challenge as the Slovakians were packing their defence in order to stop West getting any opportunities to score and this was frustrating the West who were being knocked out of their routine. Despite several attempts west were unable to beat the defence or offside trap, so a change in tact was required and West broke down the wing before Kyle Gallagher sent in a cross that Keiran Duffy was able to run through on and he fired the ball home.
The opener was followed by a goal from Nathan Ward and a penalty by Thomas Clark after Nathan Ward had been brought down in the box. The Slovakians were able to pull one back when they split the West defence and fired in a low volley. SYFA West 3-1 Dunjska Streda.
The semi final was against KFC Komarno from Slovenia and both teams, having played in the tight game in the group stage, were very evenly matched. There were not many chances in this game and credit goes to both goalkeepers for dealing with the few which did fall their way. Martin McGeachie for the West was in fine form and when called upon to produce he certainly did.
The sides couldn't be separated and penalty kicks were required. Kyle Gallagher, Thomas Clark, Mark Easton and Kieran Falconer all scored for the West. Komarno had gone first and scored their first four kicks as well. In the fifth penalty Martin McGeachie saved down at his right hand post and it was now down to Nathan Ward to put West through to the final. The Komarno keeper had taken one of his tops off at that point and the referee insisted he put it back on, how much of this was to try and unsettle Nathan we don't know, but after what seemed an eternity Nathan took the kick and it was saved by the feet of the keeper.
The shootout progressed to sudden death, with play4ers knowing that any miss could seal the fate of their team. Komarno scored first and Keiran Duffy took the sixth penalty for the West and cleanly fired it home. When the seventh penalty taker went up for Komarno he didn't look that confident and so it proved as he struck his penalty against the left hand post. It was down to Kris Littler, the player who scored against Komarno in the group games to take his penalty and put West through. Littler took his time, placed his shot and scored. The West players celebrated this win but also took time out to commiserate with the Slovakian players at the end of a tough game for both teams. They learned later that they were to play STB Academy of Italy in the final the following day.
SYFA West returned to the stadium, where it all started a week ago, to play STB Academy from Italy. A final appearance looked a long way away after the opening day defeat, however the Scots had bounced back in style. The squad were only together for 8 months, playing 8 games and training 7 times, yet in the past week they had grown as a team and played their hearts out for each other.
West started the game well and in the 21st minute great play in midfield saw Thomas Clark involved in the build-up that led to a ball being flighted across the box for Nathan Ward to head home. There were some challenges going in and both teams were desperate to win the match, however with players starting to get booked for these challenges they had to be careful that they didn't pick up a second yellow card.
In injury time in the first half when West had a corner they lost possession and STB broke from defence and sent a long ball down the park to their lone striker. Both West central defenders went for the same ball and neither made contact which left the striker a free shot on goal and he finished it off with a low drive. It was a crucial goal for STB as up to that point they hadn't offered any real threat on goal.
In the second half both had chances but with 4 minutes to go and penalties looming again STB were pressing from midfield and looking for a winner. West conceded a free kick 20 yards out in front of goal. Despite a four man wall the STB striker blasted the ball into the bottom left hand corner to win the match for the Italian side.
Summarising the whole trip team manager, Jim Smith MBE, said: "Right up until the final whistle this was an experience that would live with the players. Even although they did not win the final what they did to get their after a rocky first game was immense. Scottish football at the moment has the eyes of the World on it for the wrong reasons but these 16 talented players proved at this tournament that Scottish youth football deserves some recognition and credit. In the West Region we have had teams visiting the Donosti Cup in Spain, here at the Intersport Tournament in Hungary and the 14s travel to Copenhagen later this week to play in the Denmark Cup."
He continued: "What is more important is that these players are all from local boys club and credit must be given to their Clubs for helping develop these players. We would see this very much as part of the player pathway where players can still enjoy their football with their team mates and get these opportunities."
Smith added: "Following the game in Hungary the Italian head coach congratulated the players on their professionalism and asked which senior club we were with. He couldn't believe that the squad had only been together for such a short time and said that he would speak to his club about inviting the West Region to Italy for a training camp. He also said that it had been one of their hardest games in a long time and that they were a feeder pro youth side for AC Milan, so all in all we gave them a run for their money."
The Player of the Tournament for the SYFA West was awarded to Nathan Ward (pictured, right) who played in the majority of games and was a credit on and off the park. His positive contribution and attitude certainly helped the team's fortunes.
Viktoria Veress International Teams Liason from the Intersport Tournament said: "I am delighted that the SYFA West from Scotland returned to the Tournament in 2012 as they had been so well received by the team and locals when they attended in 2011. It was also great that they had participated so well and to reach the final in only their second visit to the tournament. They played so well against the Italians Professional Team. The YFF is such a fantastic opportunity for young people to meet others from other cultures and to enjoy the game of football on and off the park."