LONDON – European champions. Inter have won the first edition of the Next Generation Series, the new European youth tournament, 1-1 after extra time and 5-3 on penalties. They did it by showing heart, a big heart, which saw them fight, with a man down from the 70th minute to beat the odds. Anything but little Inter, this is a great Inter and the future looks bright.
Inter made history in London and Nerazzurri president Massimo Moratti enjoyed the success from up close. The first Under-19 Champions League, an extraordinary and prestigious achievement, goes into the trophy cabinet. And Stramaccioni's lads deserve endless praise, for how they fought, never gave up, and how they attacked. They put in an excellent display, which also saw them overcome the dreaded penalties.
But let's start at the beginning. The starting eleven, as chosen by Stramaccioni, were greeted by a sea of blue and black flags at Brisbane Road, just as they were on Wednesday when they overcame Olympique Marseille. The young Nerazzurri side had a pre-match huddle, as the president and his son Giovanni watched on from the stands. Inter's future starts here.
Managing director Ernesto Paolillo and youth academy director Roberto Samaden were also there to cheer on the side.
Ajax began with a powerful and mobile 4-3-3 as they tried to combat Inter's 4-3-2-1, and put the Primavera side under pressure in the opening stages. The Nerazzurri were able to keep the scores level thanks to a committed defensive display from everyone, the front men included. Right from the outset there was a battle in midfield, as both sides looked sharp. Inter were given a shock after a quarter of an hour, but Di Gennaro was there to make a save, which was as good as goal (16th minute). From an Ajax corner the Inter number one caught the ball after Klaassen's effort had cannoned back of the post. And it was after having nearly gone behind that Inter became more incisive and began to take hold of the midfield area, before launching counter-attacks through Romanò, Bessa and Longo. And the finishing touch came right on cue. It was Longo with the strike on the 45th minute, finding a finish across the goalkeeper after a great ball from Bessa, following good build-up from Pecorini. It was an unstoppable finish. A fifth goal in the NextGen for the striker, who also scored the second goal against Marseille.
The Nerazzurri went in 1-0 up at the interval, but they were level again at the start of the second half, as Denswil scored in the 49th minute. A textbook free-kick from him, which left Di Gennaro with no chance. Stramaccioni's had it all to do again, but they didn't let their heads drop and kept fighting. The situation became more complicated 20 minutes from the end of the second half. After 71 minutes the referee Collins decided to send off M'Baye for a foul on Veltman. It was a harsh decision and left the Primavera down to ten men. Alborno came on to replace Livaja on 75 minutes. Di Gennaro spilled the ball when colliding with Alborno on 80 minutes but he was able to gather the ball at the second attempt. Inter naturally struggled, playing with ten men, and yet they didn't give up, in spite of the close shave in the 90th minute as Klaassen hit the top of the crossbar. It went to extra time.
Extra time got underway with Crisetig hitting the crossbar with a free-kick after two minutes. Inter continued to work very hard, and this was commendable with a man light. Bessa and Romanò combined and won a corner kick but van der Hart denied the Italo-Brazilian after Longo's dummy. Inter rediscovered their aggressiveness and this was evident from the way they closed down their opponents, and threatened on the counter. After 18 minutes Denswil nearly scored his second from a free-kick, but with Di Gennaro beaten, he was denied by the crossbar. Inter tried to respond with a bullet from Longo, which also smacked against the crossbar. Inter showed incredible heart along with their defensive effort and they were able to play a good line, which saw out Ajax's goal four minutes from the end of extra time ruled out for offside.
The match went to penalties and following five strikes – three converted by Inter (Bessa, Duncan and Alborno) and two from Ajax – Di Gennaro saved from Veltman. Up stepped Longo, who scored, and the Nerazzurri goalkeeper also saved from De Bondt. There was an eruption of joy but the referee, incredibly, put a halt to them by ordering a re-take. De Bondt scored at the second attempt but Crisetig, the last to take one, made no mistake and secured the win for Inter.
It was time to celebrate, this time for real. Romanò, the captain, lifted the deserved trophy into the London sky. Thank you lads - heroes and European champions.