Friday, 24 March 2017

24/03/17 Review: Norway U19 vs Belarus U19

Norway U19 2-1 Belarus U19 (European U19 Championship Elite Round, Group 3)
St. George's Park, Pitch 4

As with my entry from just a couple of days ago, today has brought me back to St. George's Park after the movement of a match I was scheduled to see. On Wednesday, I was taken away from Telford and today I learnt early-on that the proposed tie between Norway Under-19's and the Belarus Under-19's had been moved away from Harrison Park. I suppose they were all enjoying the facilities in Burton too much!

Back so soon
Seems as how I'd headed straight for the Main Stadium on Wednesday to see England beat the Scandinavians 2-0, I thought I would this time give Pitch 4 a try and would again be seeing Norway in action- facing off against the side who lost 0-5 on their opening to the Elite Round at the hands of Spain, on this very pitch. As a result of these opening matches, England and Spain's game was a top of the table clash this afternoon on the Main Stadium, whilst my encounter was with the two defeated nations from two days ago. A win for either side could still give them a shot at climbing to the top of Group 3 and would therefore be enough inspiration to try and grab themselves the much desired spot for the Final Tournament in Georgia during the start of July. The wider many piled out of their vehicles and wandered over to the Main Stadium, whilst me and 13 spectators opted for the other fixture. The sun, unlike on Wednesday, was beating down on St. George's and I seemed to have picked an optimum afternoon to come out again to see some of the stars of tomorrow. Kris Ajer, Celtic lad on loan at Kilmarnock, was captaining his nation again and it was Maksim Shvetsov, a Dinamo Minsk young centre-back, who wore the band for Belarus.

Ready for the big KO
For the first five minutes or so there was plenty of snarl, but not much bite in either side. Belarus seemed the most likely to break the deadlock but at this stage my pre-match prediction of 0-0 could quite easily seem plausible as Dmitri Podstrelov and Stromsgodset's Knut Ahlander both failed to meet chances that came their way. With just under 20 minutes gone though, the opener was to come in devastating fashion. Magnus Grodem, who just 3 days after his 17th birthday scored on his professional debut for Valerenga last season, took the play to Belarus with a fantastic solo run. The big lad swept past a couple of midfielders and when met with the back four of Belarus, he briefly looked up before thumping home a 25-yard strike from the centre of the pitch and it landed firmly into the back of Pavel Pavlyuchenko's net- great hit! Norway 1-0 Belarus.

Rumour has it that part of the ball turned red from Grodem's red-hot strike
For Belarus, they knew that defeat would see them face England on Monday knowing that they couldn't make it to the Finals, so they looked to turn things up and start competing for the comeback. Alexsandr Krasnov tried to get things going up top for Belarus, but when the Torpedo Zhodino striker came face to face with Ajer, there was more off-the-ball collisions than anything. After seeing Ajer twice now in three days, I am still undecided as to what I think to him. He reminds me of a young Bilel Mohsni in that he can play in defence and bully his opponents with his large frame, but then he also seems to be very confident going up-front with the ball too and trying to spark a goal. The negative for me is that he seems quite an angry young man and I also got a sense of him being a wee bit selfish in places where he could distribute possession. I'll be interested to see how his career progresses and whether he can make it into the Celtic squad in the future. Either way, he was fairing better than his opponent's captain and on 25 minutes it would be the centre-back who led Belarus that conceded a penalty after taking down an attacker in red. Needless to say that Ajer instantly powered over from the heart of the defence to grab the ball ready for his spot-kick, which he confidently dispatched and therefore doubled Norway's lead. Norway 2-0 Belarus.

And that's how it would be at Half-Time
Usually the 15 minute break is a time for me to nip over to the clubhouse to taste the club's finest lager, however this was St. George's Park and unless I fancied the 10 minute trot over to the Main Stadium for a cuppa I would have to make do with just sitting and enjoying the sun. It is odd that I usually have so much to write about regarding the ground, the fans, the funny conversations I hear and the quirky surroundings on show, but today there was none of that. The ground was basic, but very nice- as you'd expect from a part of the £105m complex. The only people here watching appeared to be Belarus players' family and friends, with the odd Norwegian person. The conversations may well have been up to the usual hilarious standard I'm used to hearing, however as none of it was in English I couldn't even tell you if the two men behind me were discussing the game, or telling an embarrassing story of how Pavel Pavlyuchenko's name came about. I hope it was the latter.

A UEFA Official laptop just sat on charge pitch-side- you don't see that at Harrison Park
Half-time went so slowly that I even had time to ponder how the kids being ball boys for the game managed to get the day off school. Anyway, enough of that, on with the second-half. The first action of the second 45 was when the Norway left-back came bursting down his wing into the box and after shimmying across the box towards a shooting position, he unfortunately got his shot off straight into the arms of the awaiting Belarus keeper. At the other end, Pavel Sedko of Dinamo Brest had a chance from a set-piece on the hour mark and he forced the first memorable save from Kjetil Haug. The Manchester City youngster was at full-stretch this time to save the comeback, but he could do nothing the next time that the ball found its way into the box. The resulting corner looked initially to be wasted as the Belarus last-line of defence ended up with the ball at his feet, so he promptly popped it past the Norway team and surprisingly found the feet of Sergei Dichenkov who tidily slotted home- game on. Norway 2-1 Belarus. Ajer showed his frustration by giving Ivan Bakhar a piece of his mind- not that he was bothered though, his side were within touching-distance of a comeback.

As time passed, the sides both continued to give it their all and there was always the sad reality for Belarus that if they came back to draw then both sides would be out. Norway knew this so they pressed on too, bringing on the tricky Abdul-Basit Agouda to try and get the crucial final goal. With injury-time beginning, Agouda did create himself a chance from a bit of magic in and amongst the Belorussian defenders. He eventually got a shot off, but the keeper was equal to it. In the distance I hear a roar from the Young Lions camp as the masses celebrated what was Chris Willock's goal for England Under-19's as they completed an unexpected 3-0 romp of the Spanish juvenils. There were to be no more goals here and Norway are out due to England having already beaten the two teams that could level on points with them.

Maybe next time for Belarus or Norway
Unless I end up going to a game at the weekend, my next match will be on Monday night as I head to Barnet for a third successive international match. This time it will be a senior friendly bout between Nigeria and Burkina Faso, which should be a fascinating night out in North London!

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