|FROM JALAN BESAR STADIUM
By Teng Kiat
The Sporting Lisbon Under-19s emerged as champions of the inaugural NexLions Cup tournament after beating their Liverpool counterparts 2-0 in the final yesterday evening,
Fresh off a 4-1 thumping of Manchester United in their semi-final on Friday, Sporting looked like they had carried over the momentum from that match into this game as they got off to a strong start.
Captain Carlos Mane shot narrowly wide of the far post in the 8th minute, before placing a tame shot into the grateful arms of Liverpool goalkeeper Ryan Fulton minutes later when he should have done better.
The Sporting striker nearly created the opener in the 27th minute when he touched a long ball past Fulton and crossed for Luka Stojanovic, whose weak header was cleared off the line.
The rest of the first half was a more even contest as both sides traded blows, but it only took all of 30 seconds for Sporting to take the lead after the restart.
Stojanovic latched onto a through ball in the area and his precise low shot across Fulton nestled in the bottom corner to give his side the lead.
Substitute Wilson Janco had a great chance to make it 2-0 after a neat one-two saw him surge into the area, but he poked his shot wide.
Liverpool then raced down the other end and Marc Pelosi saw his low shot beat the goalkeeper but not a covering defender, as the Reds stepped up their efforts to find an equalizer.
But Sporting sealed victory in injury time when Luis Cortez brilliantly took a pass in his stride and accelerated past a defender, before slamming an emphatic finish past Fulton to extinguish Liverpool’s hopes of a comeback.
Speaking after the game, victorious coach Abel Ferreira claimed that his side should have won by more, and that he was not surprised that they triumphed in the tournament.
“My players and I players work every day, every time to win. I think it’s a surprise for you, not for me. I know my players [and] we think the same - we work to win. My team can match anybody,” he said.
The former Sporting player also hailed his players as “fantastic” and added that he was proud of them, but refused to single out any individual.
“I won’t talk [just about] one player, because we win together.”
Defender Foboko Atub claimed that they were not overawed by the big names of Liverpool and Manchester United, because they had self-belief.
“I think we have very good, talented players and you guys know and [have] seen [for] yourself. We respect every opponent but apart from that respect, we have to make sure we do our bit on the pitch and make sure we are the best,” the Cameroonian said.
Liverpool coach Alex Inglethorpe admitted that their opponents deserved to win and also mentioned that he learnt more about his team during this trip, having taken on the role of reserve team coach only two weeks ago.
“They were the better team… We had moments but they deserved to win. We came here with a mixed group, a younger group and I thought we went toe-to-toe with them for large parts of the game,” he pointed out.
“We need time to work, to develop [and] to become better players.”