Real Madrid Juvenil are, for the seventh time, the Juvenil (U19) Champions of Spain. Nobody has won this competition more times than Real Madrid. And as it's Real Madrid's fashion, it was far from an easy victory. For a mind-blowing 90 minutes, they played with only 10 men. They showe incredible resilience and mental strength throughout the match. They ran, fought, and in the end they won.
.@Gol @DaniGomezAlcon9 @Albertito_Uda @oscararnaiz10 @GorkaZabarte5 @FFeuillassier @Martinito99 @ManuHernando4 Juvenil A starting lineup:— Ondra Paul (@OndraPaul) May 6, 2017
Belman; Zabarte, Manu Hernando, Javi, Fran García; Toni, Martín, Óscar, Franchu; Alberto y Dani Gómez.
This team has come a long way since the beginning of the season. Back then, Guti was freshly promoted from Juvenil B and new players came from lower Juvenil sides. However, if you look at this group of players now, you'll see they have that chemistry and special connection between them, which makes all the difference on the pitch. And this final, in the most prestigious U19 tournament in Spain, was the pinnacle of the season.
30 games played in Group 5 of División de Honor, then quarterfinals against their crosstown rivals Atleti, an incredible compact and well drilled Villarreal's Juvenil in the semifinals, and finally Málaga. 33 games played in total. Sometimes commentators love to sell this story as a fairy tale, but make no mistakes, it was a slightly bumpy ride.
Both the team and Guti had to grow throughout the season. They were given many lessons and thankfully they learnt from them. A loss against Atleti in March, unnecessary draws, questionable team selections in the UEFA Youth League, abandoning their style, and wasted opportunities to win the UEFA Youth League — they learnt from all of it and you could see that in this.
Juvenil made a brilliant start to this match. Right off the bat, they squeezed Málaga and kept creating chance after chance. But then, in the 32nd minute, Martín made an unnecessary tackle, which earned him his second yellow. For a moment, everybody was probably thinking the same thing: 'It's over, there's no way they can even defend this 0-0 draw for 60 minutes, let alone to score a goal and win it'. And boy, we were wrong.
Toni dropped deeper and Juvenil formed into a 4-4-1 shape. If I were to do the player ratings from this game, I would have to give everyone a 10. Everybody brought their A game today.
In defence, Manu Hernando and Javi Hernandez were imperial. Two stonewalls on which many Málaga's attacks crashed and ended. They were aided by highly attacking fullbacks, Fran García and Gorka Zábarte, who diligently tracked back and even with 10 men they kept bombing forward and back.
The midfield was orchestrated by Óscar, who once again showed why he's by many considered the most promising player in this Juvenil side. After Martín’s expulsion, he assumed a bit more defensive responsibilities than usual, but he still managed to influence the game in the attack, as we are accustomed to. Meanwhile, Toni was a wizard in the final third. Countless times he created chances out of nothing.
Alberto and Franchu were one of the main reasons why Juvenil were so solid the back. They provided much needed width in the attack and protection for the fullbacks. Franchu's second half performance was probably the best I've seen him play. He was like a possessed man.
Like I said, after Martín’s expulsion, Juvenil kept their cool and didn't abandon their tidy possession football. If you tuned in after the 32nd minute, you wouldn't notice that Juvenil were playing with 10 men. They completely dominated Málaga, who could only muster long balls and a couple of quick counters. Dani Goméz had so many chances to put Juvenil 1-0 up, but somehow he failed to convert them.
As the minutes flew by, Guti kept his cool and trusted his players. He didn't make any rushed decision, he encouraged them, and waited for the right moment to make changes. He knew that the players out there can get the job done.
And then, in the 116th minute of the match, the long awaited moment came. Juvenil were awarded a free kick near the box and they still had Óscar, the free kick magician, on the pitch. We all knew what was going to happen. Óscar carefully placed the ball on the marked spot, he took five steps back and exhaled. The referee blew his whistle, Óscar caressed the ball with his right foot, and just watched it gracefully curve into the top left corner. Everybody went nuts. Guti, his assistant, physios, bench players and the players on the pitch all erupted into cheers.
They didn't care that the game wasn't over yet and they celebrated this goal for a full minute and a half. And then, four minutes later, the full celebrations began, as the referee blew the whistle for the last time.
I know that U19 football isn't primarily about winning trophies, but I'd argue that it's more important than some think it is. The experience of playing under pressure in such high profile games is invaluable. They had to adjust to a difficult situation (playing with 10 men for 90 minutes) and find a way to win this match. And Real Madrid need match winners in their squad. You won't become a match winner if you lose these games or if you don't even challenge for these trophies.
After the game, Guti was full of praise for his players:
'The effort and work that everyone has put in is incredible. They believed and kept on encouraging themselves on the pitch. It was fair that we scored the goal before the penalties.'
'The ability of these players to do things right, to make a sacrifice in the field, to be united, is spectacular. We have played more than 80 or 90 minutes with one man down and the team didn't look like it. I am very proud of them. It has been wonderful.'
Dominating with 10 men
'With ten men and eleven men, we have dominated the game. This is the Real Madrid's DNA. It is a well deserved victory. They have fought for this Copa de Campeones and I think this trophy will be forever remembered in the history of Real Madrid, because of the way it was won.'
'They [Málaga] knew we were a good team, that we could win this trophy. Everybody has the sacrificed for the win. They are all great players. Óscar Rodríguez has been decisive because he scored the goal, but all of them were absolutely brilliant.
Victory against the defending champions
'Malaga is a very physical team with a clear footballing philosophy. They had their chances, they did not convert them and in the end we convert ours and we took the victory'