|FROM JALAN BESAR STADIUM
By Kenneth Tan
Despite being heavily fancied and leading 1-0 at half time, the Manchester United Under-19s fell to a 1-4 defeat against the Sporting Lisbon U19s in the opening match of the inaugural NexLions Cup.
With athletic captain Carlos Mane upfront, Sporting started the game as the more impressive side with a number of quick attacks down the wings.
However, Liam Grimshaw stood strong in the United defence to clear the threats, and it was credit to the United skipper that Sporting took 11 minutes to have their first real opportunity on goal. Midfielder Luka Stojanovic unleashed a volley from range, which United goalkeeper Jonathan Sutherland had to tip wide.
United then settled down somewhat, with the dynamic duo of Jack Barmby and Mats Daehli impressing with their exciting runs.
Their first chance came on 16 minutes, with James Weir’s cheeky lob coming back off the top of the bar after the Sporting defence failed to clear their lines.
Daehli then thrilled the crowd with a mesmerizing run down the right before teeing up Barmby, whose curler went just wide.
Sporting battled hard and was only able to create another opening only on 36 minutes when Mane’s fierce drive from a tight angle was palmed away by Sutherland.
United soon went on the counter with Daehli once again creating havoc down the left for an unmarked James Wilson, who scuffed his shot horribly inside the box
The striker duly made amends a minute later though as he latched on to a delightful diagonal ball from Daehli and smartly sidestepped the goalkeeper before slotting into the empty net.
Sporting were back on level terms just 19 seconds after the break, as an attack straight from kick-off ending in Mane arrowing a shot past a stranded Sutherland from six yards.
Moments later, Barmby was brought down illegally inside the box but the 18-year-old's spot-kick was superbly saved by Sporting goalkeeper Mickael Meira.
Stunned by the blow, United lost their shape as Sporting dominated proceedings, with Mane a constant threat upfront.
Their endeavours paid off on 70 minutes as substitute Edelino Ie took advantage of a rare United slip-up in defence to slam home past Sutherland from close range.
Sporting added two more goals in the closing minutes, as Edelino easily strode past a static United defence on 87 minutes to poke home past a stranded Sutherland, before substitute Cristian Ponde finished clinically inside the box on 90 minutes to send their team to the final.
At the post-match press conference, United coach Paul McGuinness rued the bad start to the second half and the poor defending that ensued.
"We gave away a simple goal right after half time - that was the deciding point. We had a chance to recover but we missed the penalty. That lifted their [Sporting's] confidence," he said.
"We're disappointed with the defending, we tried to bring the ball out at the wrong time and made the wrong decisions. The first 10 to 15 minutes of each half is very important not to concede any goals and this is a good lesson for the boys."Meanwhile, his victorious counterpart Abel Ferreira commended his side for the way they came back into the game.
"The first half was difficult due to the weather [as] it affected the players' decision-making, but they adapted to it as the game went on [and] it's fantastic to witness that," he pointed out.
Ferreira also expressed his desire to meet the Singapore Selection in the final.
"It'll be a pleasure to play them in the final. Many people want a Man Utd-Liverpool final but whoever we meet doesn't matter," he said.