Northern Ireland Milk Cup 2009: A Preview
Posted by nickogs20 on July 26, 2009
Tomorrow marks the start of the 2009 edition of the Northern Ireland Milk Cup, with United’s U17s bidding to defend the Premier section trophy they won so impressively last season and a trio of Reds representing Northern Ireland as they bid for glory in the Elite section. Read on for all the details about the forthcoming five days of action…
First of all, some background info – forgive me for re-using what I wrote this time last year, but it’s as relevant today as it was then! For those unfamiliar with the competition, the Milk Cup is one of the most prestigious youth tournaments in world football, regularly attracting representation from the very biggest clubs in the game since its inception in 1983. The tournament features three age groups – Elite (U19, typically national sides), Premier (U17) and Junior (U15) – and takes place over five days in the Coleraine area of County Londonderry.
Past winners include United, Barcelona, Liverpool, Fluminense and Rangers, while players to have featured in the past include our own Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney. There were 30 players at the 2002 World Cup who had played in the Milk Cup earlier in their career, which kinda says it all.
United will be participating in the Premier section this year, as has typically been the case in previous years. The Reds have won the section three times – most recently last year with a team including Kiko Macheda, Davide Petrucci, Matt James et al, but also in 2003 and in 1991, the latter with a side comprising names like Scholes, Beckham, Giggs and Neville.
The Premier section sees 10 randomly drawn ties involving all 20 sides on each of the first two days. After these two qualifying games each, the 20 sides are split into the top 8 (who go on to play for the Milk Cup), the middle 8 (who will play for the Slemish Trophy) and the bottom 4 (who will play for the Dunluce Trophy) using a standard points system (3 for a win, 1 for a draw) and then a number of tie-breakers if necessary. The three separate tournaments then progress in a knockout format, with quarter-finals, semi-finals and then finals over the next three days, except for the Dunluce Trophy, which – due to the presence of only 20 teams this year rather than the usual 24 – will instead be decided with a three-day round robin competition.
Still with me? Good. A few more details to be aware of… Matches are 70 minutes long, 35 minutes each way (except for the ‘place’ matches which, excluding the final, are 30+30). Each competing team can name a maximum of 18 players in their squad, and coaches have the option of using up to five substitutes in each game. Full tournament regulations and rules can be found here.
Right, onto the specifics. Theoretically United’s main competition for the trophy looks likely to come from the likes of FC Porto, Fenerbahce and last year’s beaten finalists South Coast Bayern, as well as the usual collection of unknown quantities and dark horses. Before the Reds can start thinking about battling it out for the big prize however, they need to get through the first two days of qualifying games. The schedule for the first two days in the Premier section looks like this:
|3:30pm||Co. Fermanagh vs Fenerbahce||The Warren, Portstewart|
|3:30pm||South Coast Bayern vs Watford||Anderson Park, Coleraine|
|5:00pm||Desportivo Brasil vs Cruz Azul||Rugby Ave, Stad, Coleraine|
|5:00pm||Co. Armagh vs Club Cantolao||University, Coleraine|
|3:30pm||Co. Fermanagh vs Fenerbahce||The Warren, Portstewart|
|5:00pm||Sheffield United vs Co. Tyrone||Parker Avenue, Portrush|
|5:00pm||Otago vs Shamrock Rovers||Castlerock|
|6:00pm||Manchester United vs Co. Antrim||Showgrounds, Ballymena|
|6:00pm||Co. Down vs Trudovye Rezervy||Showgrounds, Coleraine|
|7:00pm||Burnley vs Co. Londonderry||Showgrounds, Limavady|
|7:00pm||Cherry Orchard vs FC Porto||Mullaghacall, Portstewart|
TUESDAY 28th JULY
|3:30pm||Fenerbahce vs Sheffield United||Roe Mill, Limavady|
|3:30pm||Co. Antrim vs Cherry Orchard||Broughshane|
|5:00pm||FC Porto vs Otago||Rugby Ave, Stad, Coleraine|
|5:00pm||Trudovye Rezervy vs Burnley||University, Coleraine|
|5:00pm||Shamrock Rovers vs Co. Armagh||Parker Avenue, Portrush|
|7:00pm||Cruz Azul vs Co. Fermanagh||Showgrounds, Limavady|
|7:00pm||Co. Londonderry vs Desportivo Brasil||Mullaghacall, Portstewart|
|7:00pm||Co. Tyrone vs South Coast Bayern||Riada Stadium, Ballymoney|
|7:00pm||Watford vs Co. Down||Showgrounds, Ballymena|
|7:00pm||Club Cantolao vs Manchester United||Showgrounds, Coleraine|
As you can see, United’s two opponents couldn’t be much more different, with local opposition in the form of County Antrim on day one before a real step into the unknown against Club Cantolao of Peru on Tuesday. One other name to maybe keep an eye on is Desportivo Brasil, who became affiliated with United’s academy late last year.
Media coverage of the tournament has been continually improved over the past few years, and 2009 is no different. In addition to extensive coverage on the official tournament website, daily highlights shows on BBCi (both online and via the red button) and live coverage of the final on BBCi and BBC Northern Ireland, this year sees all games played at the Ballymena Showgrounds being shown live thanks to BBC NI’s ‘Blast’ initiative, which sees 13 to 19 year-olds getting involved in the creation and production of programmes. The great part about that of course is that United’s opening game against County Antrim takes place in Ballymena, so live coverage of that game will be available on both the official Milk Cup website and the BBC Blast website. One quarter-final and both semi-finals will also be shown, so if the Reds progress as hoped, fans will get unprecedented access to the team’s matches.
So all that’s left is to discuss is the players tasked with repeating the feats of last year. All participating players must have been born on or after January 1st 1992, and with academy football in England operating with a similar ‘year group’ system to our schools, this means that the strength of United squad can differ from year to year depending on when the second-year scholars’ birthdays fall in the year. Last year, the likes of Macheda, James, Norwood, Stewart, Curran and Brandao all had ‘late’ birthdays and thus gave the squad a very strong look, but this year only two of the second-years – Robbie Brady and Joshua King – are eligible, which means a much younger squad for Paul McGuinness to take to Northern Ireland.
That said, the provisional squad of 18 still has a strong look to it, with Brady and King being joined by almost all of this year’s intake of first years (including Ryan Tunnicliffe and Zeki Fryers, both – along with Brady and King – part of last year’s squad), as well as a few less familiar names. Below is the list of names we have, although this is subject to change:
1. Sam Johnstone GK
2. Michael Keane DF
3. Zeki Fryers DF
4. Sean McGinty DF
5. Tom Thorpe DF
6. Ryan Tunnicliffe MF
7. Ravel Morrison MF
8. Etzaz Hussain MF
9. Joshua King FW
10. Will Keane FW
11. Robbie Brady MF
12. John Cofie FW
13. James Wren GK
14. Larnell Cole MF
15. Jesse Lingard FW
16. Luke Giverin DF
17. Rico Gomes MF
18. Michael Ngoo FW
As said, that squad is subject to change, and there is some talk that Alberto Massacci, the new signing from Empoli, is out there with the squad, which may suggest he has been called up as a late replacement for one of the names listed above. Fellow new recruit Sean McGinty will definitely be one to look out for, the highly-rated centre-half having joined from Charlton Athletic earlier this month. The more unfamiliar names in that list will be Rico Gomes, who is an Under-16 player originally from Portugal, and James Wren and Michael Ngoo, who are on trial from Walsall and Southend United respectively, the latter being particularly highly-rated.
As for a possible starting XI, it would seem likely that those numbered 1-11 will be given the nod initially, with centre-halves McGinty and Thorpe flanked by Michael Keane and Fryers in defence, Tunnicliffe (a possible captain?) and Hussain anchoring the midfield with Morrison and Brady out wide, and Will Keane playing off Joshua King in attack. With five subs allowed per match however, there are plenty of options available to McGuinness and we can expect to see that team chop and change as we move through the tournament.
While the main focus of United fans will obviously be on the Premier section, there’s significant interest in the Elite section as well, with defending champions and hosts Northern Ireland including three United starlets in their squad. Corry Evans, now a full international of course, is likely to skipper a squad that will also include Oliver Norwood and Conor Devlin. They kick off their campaign against a strong Germany side on Monday night before taking on Bulgaria in their second game on Wednesday.