Korean Lessons from Barcelona

The end of August and the beginning of the new school year have been incredibly busy for the fifteen-year old footballers of Zenit`s Academy.

First the team coached by Anver Koneev came in third place in the International Yury Andreevich Morozov Cup. Then just six days later the team took part in a tournament that took place in South Korea.
You might thing, why go so far away, and right after such a difficult tournament? The answer to that question comes from the opponents in the Korean games: Benefica of Portugal, the French squad Valenciennes, the top Korean, Japanese, and Australian clubs, and one of the most desired opponents for any team - the Spanish side Barcelona. The blue-white-light blues didn`t end up getting to play against Barcelona. But more on that later.
Our footballers were in Group В, which included Korea-2, made up of players from the local team "Tiger", Benefica, and the Japanese team from Osaki. The matches lasted for two halves of 35 minutes each. The two best teams from each group met in the semi-final.

Zenit`s first opponent was Benefica, which beat the Russian squad with a score of 4:1. On the next day Zenit managed to come back from its big loss and defeated the Japanese - 2:1, keeping its chances to get out of the group, and play with Barcelona. Unfortunately, in the deciding match against the Koreans, Zenit lost a tough battle to the Koreans with the hockey-like score of 4:6. In the remaining matches, to determine Zenit`s place in the tournament, the Petersburg squad suffered from fatigue after the Morozov tournament and acclimatization, and lost each of its last two games by the score of 1:2 to Valenciennes and the Australians, thereby coming in last place in the tournament. The team`s head coach, Anver Koneev, described what the tournament meant to the U-15 team in an interview with "Our Zenit".

- We went to Asia for the first time in the last ten years, - said Koneev. - I understood that my guys were really tired before they went, but I`m still really happy that we had this experience. I liked the tough competition. At first a lot of people thought the Japanese, Korean, and Australian sides would be outsiders, and that only European teams would meet in the semi-finals. But the results showed that after the World Cup in Japan and Korea, these countries have raised their level a lot. We arrived in Korea on August 24th in the evening, and we were placed in an excellent 5-star hotel with excellent food. All of the conditions were like for a team of masters. Our first match, against Benefica, went poorly right from the start: we gave up two quick goals after bad mistakes by our goalkeeper and central defenders. Then, even though we gained a goal back before half time, we got tired physically. It made a difference that the match started at 8:30 a.m. our time. But there`s no reason to complain, because the Portuguese side had an even greater time difference. But our fatigue after having just played a tough tournament may have been one of the reasons why we achieved a poor result. The next match started at 6.30 a.m. Petersburg time. I think that`s why we gave up the first goal again. Unfortunately, our opponents scored first against us in every match. And although we beat the Japanese, I have to admit that our opponent looked stronger than we did. The deciding match for leaving the group against the Koreans was an amazing match in terms of goals scored. Once again we gave up the first goal, but then tied the score. After it was 3:3 on the scoreboard, the Koreans went forward again, and took control of the match. Honestly, I don`t really understand why our goalkeepers and defenders made so many mistakes. But we`ll figure it out. Unfortunately we were weaker than opponents both physically and in terms of technique. We have to work on understanding the game. I have to admit that I`m a big fan of Barcelona, so I`ve been watching how they`ve played the last 3-4 years. I thought their excellent football was possible only thanks to their masters Xavi and Iniesta. But not at all. The 15-year old Catalonian side plays the same way! For example, in the final they allowed the Koreans to score, but they continued to keep at it, and brought home victory. I have to learn to do that too. Even if you give up a goal, that doesn`t mean you should immediately change your tactics. You have to play your own game. It`s a psychological question. In a word, we got a lot of experience from losing to these clubs, and we learned a lot.