By Walter Broeckx
As you will know if you read Andrew’s post a little while ago, Arsenal are coming to town. Well not the real Arsenal of course but the youth version of Arsenal will come to Brussels to play Anderlecht in the knock out phase of the Uefa Youth League.
Arsenal and Anderlecht played each other in the group stages last season. Arsenal lost both matches. A 4-3 high scoring festival in Belgium and a 1-2 defeat at home. Anderlecht won the group and Arsenal finished in second place on point behind them. But what followed was more impressive for Anderlecht.
Arsenal then went away to Atletico Madrid and lost 1-0. Anderlecht had to play Barcelona at home and they beat the famous La Children trafficasia also with 1-0. Anderlecht then went to the quarter finals and played Porto and you could say they trashed them as the final score was 5-0.
Anderlecht then went to the semi-finals but despite being the better team on the day they lost 1-3 against Shakhtar Donetsk. Anderlecht couldn’t score from the many chances they had and paid the price. So based on that we could say that this is not an easy match for Arsenal who started very well in their group but had two bad last matches.
Thus today will be a bit of a small Untold writers’ reunion in Brussels. Our specialist in predicting how bad the referee will be and writer of the articles on the youth Andrew is boarding the Eurostar from London to Brussels. And if the winds don’t stop him (I think he will have the wind from behind so the trip back might be the more difficult one) he will arrive later today in the capital of hell as someone said a few weeks ago.
A group of enthusiastic Arsenal Belgium members will also come to this match of course. Including myself. So we will try to provide a little bit of help to the Arsenal players. I must say that when I saw the tickets we got tickets in the away end in the Constant Van Den Stock stadium. Segregated from the home supporters.
Now having been to other matches in the Uefa youth league this is somehow sad I think. I have been to Dortmund and I remember us sitting all mixed up in the cosy stadium. Cheering the goals we scored but you could feel that all people who came to see these youth play was there most of all to enjoy themselves and to enjoy the quality of the football on stage.
This was not about supporting till the bitter end and if you don’t like the result we will knock you on your face. No, I remember all fans clapping their hands when a player made a nice move or scored a nice goal. But now it seems we have to sit in separated areas of the stadium. A bit of a bummer for me I think as this is youth football after all and not a matter of life and death.
On to the match. Anderlecht. In Belgium it is more news when any youth team from Anderlecht doesn’t win their league than when they win it. Anderlecht is the Bayern Munich of Belgium one could say. Even in a bad season when playing rubbish they still win the league more often than not. And so it also is the case for their youth teams.
They grab up the best youth players and have a production line that is simply amazing. Each and every season at least one and sometimes even more youngsters step in to their first team and sometimes even at the age of 16. Dennis Praet, Youry Tielemans, Leander Dendonder, Isaka… just a few names that have made it or are making it.
In a way Anderlecht is the team of the superstars who buys the best players but one has to admit they also give chances to their most talented youth players.
I had the luck to have been appointed last season for a match of their U19 team as an assistant referee. They were, Upp (no type error) against Lierse. And I have seen a few players that will probably play today. Big upcoming talents like Svilar their keeper who is being chased by lots of teams in Europe but his wise father has decided that at his age the best place to be is in Belgium and to finish his schooling first. His father was the former Yugoslavia national goalkeeper Ratko Svilar who finished his career in Belgium at the age of 46 and he still was the first choice when he was 44 for Antwerp FC.
Wout Faes is also a very big talent. The central defender who looks like David Luiz is seen as the new Kompany. Time will tell if he can fill those footsteps of course. Iseka might still play and if he does the Arsenal players will know who to mark as he kept on scoring last year against Arsenal.
A few of the Anderlecht players played in the Belgium team that reached the semi-final of the world cup for the U17 last summer. So not a bad team at all. But we do have to admit that their U19 team this season in the regular league is doing below expectations. They usually are in the middle of the title fight but this season they are more mid-table. A very rare sight for an Anderlecht youth team. But even when being below average they still managed to produce the result of the season as they beat the then unbeaten league leaders Standard Liège 9-1. Yes, nine vs one.
So a team capable of producing highs but also some weaknesses this season. Let us hope for a good match from Arsenal most of all of course and that we get to see a good match of football.
COYYG or Come On You Young Gunners!
PS: last minute update. The ref will be from Italy, Mr. Massa. But the 4th official is as is always the case in these matches from Belgium. A ref of whom I have great memories and who I was able to assist in probably the most memorable match of my whole career. Upp yours.
PPS: the match will be shown live on TV in Belgium. So for those who can find a link to a stream it is on Belgacom TV and also you can stream the match through the UEFA channels. In the UK it is on the subscription channel BT Sport Europe.