After a good nights sleep it was breakfast with the team at 9am to kickstart an important day. Two more group-play matches awaited us at 1pm and 5pm. Danny and I had individual meetings with several players to show them some of the good and bad things we did in our first game. Matches are being recorded and then broken down in the evenings by Daniel Rogers for analysis.
Our 1pm game was in L’estartit, 2 blocks away from the hotel so we rested well before taking a short stroll to face Selecion de Salt (a local selection from city of Salt, a Catalunya team). The boys were again in business mode and ready to punch our ticket to the knockout stages.
The opening 10 minutes showed the Barca Academy boys in clear control of the game. Ball was moving patiently from left to right awaiting the right moment where we found numbers going forward to combine and go to goal. In the 10th minute our patience paid off, as Alex found Uly with a beautifully filtered ball to leave little Neymar 1 v 1 with the keeper. Uly threw some body fakes, dribbled by and finished for the 1-0 lead. Two minutes later Neymar junior (Uly) toyed with the right back in the corner of the 18 yard box, provoking a clear pk that he slotted home for the 2-0 advantage. Right before the halftime whistle, Pooky (Cesar Rivera) lobbed a neat through ball that Richard latched onto and flicked over the rushing gk for a nice 3-0 lead.
Our instruction was simple, keep the ball moving and rest in possession to save our legs for the afternoon game. The more we have it, the less we run. Forgot to mention it was quite warm, with the synthetic turf burning your soles it drives field temperatures even higher. Point taken: Barca Academy completely monopolized the ball en route to a 5-0 scoreline. Justin hit a pk and Uly completed his hat trick with a clean finish in the 42nd minute.
A light snack, then rest for each player in their respective rooms. Our second game of the day was at 5 pm. The opponent was a team made up of GIANTS! No joke! The team is Nakhid International FA from Lebanon. The boys are supposed to be under 12 years of age but they were all the size of the parents on our team. A couple of them literally shave!!! Facial hair and all. Needless to say it was going to be a tough test for our little guys. At that age, it is normal to be physically intimidated by an opponent twice your size. (Just to understand the magnitude of it, both teams in our pool were refusing to play these guys and demanded an investigation). Tournament officials assured them all paperwork was in order and threatened the teams with forfeiting all of the games if they did not play. They ended up playing with the Lebonese team winning 3-0 and 7-0 – so we were playing for first place in the group. A draw would suffice to win the bracket.
We mentally prepared the boys for what they were about to face. Solution to the physical mismatch? Keep the ball, and move it fast so they won’t be able to touch you. Do we need to go shoulder to shoulder with these giants? HELL NO! When we lose the ball, press in unison, poke it away and keep it again. Does Barca get into physical tussles when they play the Germans, Norwegians, Russians, ect? We all know the answer there.
The game against Nahkid was not our best. Sloppy in the build-up. Panic at times when what seemed like a 17 year old striker would come and pressure. So naturally, our clean build-ups were sporadic. The midfield play was key in keeping the ball in their half of the field. Our 3 forwards were pressuring really well – not letting Nahkid get comfortable and forcing them into long balls with no destination. We’d simply put the ball on the ground and begin circulating it. Our goal came off a set piece. Uly hit a nice shot that hit the cross bar, with Louie Arellano pouncing on the rebound to score the games only goal. Not that we were short on clear scoring opportunities, but we squandered all of them. Suffered a bit of pressure in the last few minutes but held out for the 1-0 victory.
*sidenotes – the whole crowd (~150 people) were pro Barca USA and whistling at the ref for his poor performance throughout. They’d also jeer the Lebanese mens team whenever they’d complain about a call. It was an incredible atmosphere for the boys to play in.
Off to bed to rest for tomorrow’s game. Opponent? USA Soccer Stars. A local team from Southern California composed of several top tier clubs … a u12 all star team per say. A tall task is in order since we give up 6 months to over a year in age to their players. After today, I doubt we’ll be physically intimidated by anyone.