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Under-18 World Cup 7 - Everything Thread

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Ko-oren
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Postby Ko-oren » Mon Feb 11, 2019 12:36 pm

Draft news and University recruits

Every single year, all 12 Top League teams have the opportunity to attract new talent from the University leagues. This year, the choice was made a lot easier. The Di Bradini Cup squad consisted of the best available talent, and the 21-year olds on that team are obvious choices for the 24 available spots in the Top League. The Di Bradini Cup team was made up of anything from 18- to 21-year olds, so only a handful were actually eligible. From the eligible players, the following picks were made:

GK Gudo Neihof -> Straudum
RB Kausjasteul Rilastadhaunden -> Cirelbourne
CB Ingvar Hovestad -> Bruncester
CM Cornelious Magrath -> Miradela

In short, defensive talent was in high demand. Several defenders have left the Top League last season to continue their career overseas - after all, Ko-oren is a nation renowned for its defensive prowess. To fill the gaps left by the transfers, 55% of the picks went towards strengthening the back line.

In addition to the four that were already named, these are the other high profile picks (involving players over 21, hence why they weren't in the DBC team):

CAM Jochi Murakami -> Alara
CB Dani Ardouin -> Aminey
RB Isabela Basquez -> Branvón
RM Harold Batchelor -> Maynard
GK Barre Goossen -> Schemerdrecht
LM Bawfreon yChibwod -> Tanques
DM Cole Train -> Tanques

Basically, Tanques had the picks of a lifetime, adding to their depth with two great midfielders.

Now, the spots on the University teams are to be filled by the soon to be ex-highschoolers - and would you look at that, the biggest talents among them are now playing in the U-18 World Cup. The U-18ers just beat the Pepsi Governate of Korea (that's a roller coaster in four words) to go to the semifinals: the best ever finish for a Ko-orenite youth team already. In this round, the Green and Blue face the Purple and White (but more white than purple) of Starblaydia - the home country to Di Bradini himself, creating a nice full circle to the start of the article.

The biggest name of them all is Heiko Heijting, a goalkeeper that was also present at the DBC. He's been taken by the Technical Uni of Sterrenwolde, who've had a lackluster team until they started recruiting like no other. Heijting is a huge addition to their team, and in three to four years, a great addition to any Top League team. Possibly an even bigger name (but an unknown factor in Ko-oren) is Thaddeus Rampton, Apox-born member of the Centre for Excellence, and yet to play an official match on Ko-orenite soil. The central defender knows his heritage and defends like the best of them, but is getting an experience like no other player by combining the Dragonfly defence with an Apoxian influence. He has been called by several universities, but so far he's decided to stay in Apox and finish his youth career over there.

Valle Borggreve is also going to Sterrenwolde's Technical Uni. With him, that university is continuing to sign the larger names of the U-18 world. Two strikers are on the DBC and the U-18 team, and they are Killand and Kisjeswant. The former has signed for Sudaefjolluniversitet to prepare for a professional career in relative silence, while the latter... you guessed it, is going to Sterrenwolde Technical University. There are two such names in midfield too: Immens (16 years old!) and Odonaghue. The former has already played in the DBC and will still be eligible for that cup for the next five years! He, well, is going to Sterrenwolde too. Sterrenwolde sounds like a massive club now, but honestly they had some recruiting to do and now they're finally getting on par with the larger unis. Odonaghue is staying close to home, and he will go to the Willowbourne Institute of Humanities.

Other players will soon decide on their collegiate careers - there are three weeks left until the universities will have to announce their rosters for the season. The deadline for university graduates going to the Top League and the second division has already passed.
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Starblaydia
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Postby Starblaydia » Mon Feb 11, 2019 12:51 pm

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Starblaydia Survive to Set up Semi Scrap
McCloud bags 10th goal, continues record of scoring in every match

Image
Captain Arkady Krakowski made it two for the tournament with a late winner
Starblaydia kept their dream run going with a fifth straight victory in the Under-18 World Cup, but it wasn't all plain sailing for the boys and girls in white. Though Sutter McCloud had score nine goals in four matches up until this point, and it was left to the star Number 10 yet again to get Starblaydia on the scoresheet. Considering he's scored just over half of the team's goals this campaign - now ten of 19 - you'd expect that the over-reliance on McCloud would have come up at some point. Indeed, McCloud injured himself while scoring in this match, and in the final half an hour without their talisman, they still produced the goods that sent them into the last four, with young substitute striker Edwin Deacy key to the build-up. This, at least, goes some way to proving that this isn't just a one-man team.

One team that does appear to be a one-man team, however, is Abanhfleft. The Young Young Revolutionaries have been almost completely focused on getting their ball to the Uranium City Radiation striker, as evidenced in the first game of the tournament against Eraman, where Bakayoko slotted himself four of Abanhfleft's six goals in a ten out of ten performance. The tactic is an obvious one, but when your lone striker is that good, then you need to get the ball to him as often as possible. With a couple of chances in the opening few minutes, it was only a matter of time before Bakayoko made the breakthrough, slotting into the corner past Cosmo Leopoldi in the Starblaydi goal. It was only the second time that Starblaydia have been behind the entire tournament, having been behind for 41 minutes against Mercedini in the Group Stage, and they had to dig deep to get back in the match as Abanhfleft looked to put the game beyond Starblaydia in the opening half hour.

The team in white held on, however, with Falka Kaumolainen coming to the fore, as she stuck to Babayoko like a shadow, allowing Manish Chakraborty to sweep up behind her and Gabriel Escerra to cover in front. The sudden shackling of the young star suddenly gave the game to Starblaydia for a period, with both Eccleston and McCloud going close, and Kaori Yamaguchi forcing a sharp reaction save from Cadence Schmitt. Starblaydia in went 1-0 behind at the half, despite having arguably the better of the first forty-five minutes when looked at as a whole. At the start of the second half the Young Young Revolutionaries came out with a bang, as Darren Richardson's movement down the left got the better of Imane Al-Hashem on a couple of occasions before Yamaguchi was forced to drop back and provide a bit more steel in the midfield to counter the threat.The little switch around seemed to positively affect the whole side, as it wasn't long before Sutter McCloud equalised with his 10th goal at youth level in just seven games.

McCloud has the greatest of strikers instincts, it seems, as a chance run hoping that Wilton Kaba would miscontrol the ball turned into a golden opportunity, nicking the ball from the toes of the Sfaxspor defender and promptly leaving him for dead, before sliding the ball how low past Schmitt. It was 1-1 with half an hour to play, and game on. Unfortunately for Starblaydia, however, in that run and shot Sutter McCloud appeared to have a tweak in his thigh muscle and as a precaution Ázëwyn Fëanáro brought McCloud straight off in the aftermath of the goal. In his place, young Edwin Deacy of the Vecchio Victors youth academy.

Starblaydia toiled for the next ten minutes or so, seemingly a knock in confidence following the departure of their talisman as much as from the boost to Fleftic fortunes, despite having conceded the equaliser. In the end, however, it proved to be Starblaydia's night, as Deacy played an excellent one-two with Alan Eccleston and broke into the box in the closing minutes. Rather than shoot, the Vics' youth player calmly slotted his cross along the six-yard line and the onrushing Arkady Krakowski was there to play Captain Fantastic and smash the ball into the roof of the net as hard as he could.

The Ko-oren await in the Semi-Final, having cruised through both their knockout matches by two goals to nil. They topped Group C by virtue of a 1-0 win over Free Republics, despite having worse goals and goal difference records against their rivals, knocked out in Extra Time by Oberour Ar Moro earlier today. Ko-oren's classic defensive game is reminiscent of System Karela, though it appears this tournament they've been experimenting with what their usual 5-3-2 can accomplish when different players advance into the midfield for a more conventional 4-4-2. This tactical fluidity has led this Ko-oren youth side to four straight wins leading up to this match, which just the one aberration against Abristan in the opening game. Steef Kisjewant looks to be one of the greatest threats to Starblaydia progressing, plus of course the otherwise exceptionally solid defence that all Dragonfly sides aim to have at the core of their play style.

In the other half of the draw, a potential Group E rematch is still on as Mercedini progressed fairly easily against Freeport. Starblaydia versus Mercedini would certainly be the glamour option for the Final, but there's still the possibility of it being the Third-Place Playoff, of course. Each of the four sides remaining in this competition has two games left, and only one can win both. Whoever does will be crowned Under-18 Champions, and the beginning of a new Golden Generation will dawn for that nation.

Final score from Diamond Park, Stalliongrad (67,953)
Starblaydia 2 - 1 Abanhfleft
(McCloud 63', Krakowski 86') - (Bakayoko 12')
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Mercedini
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Postby Mercedini » Mon Feb 11, 2019 4:05 pm

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7th Under-18 World Cup Quarterfinals
Mercedini vs. Freeport
@ Shady Grove - Whitetail, Equestrian States


uWu Welcome back to the U18 World Cup with even more action from the Equestrian States, horsing around is guaranteed ba dun tss. We're well into the business end of the tournament with the best eight teams in the tournament now fighting for a chance to lift the Under-18 World Cup trophy earn the title of best U18 youth side there is to offer. Last time round, Mercedini were made to work but ultimately came out with a crucial 3-2 victory over Baker Park to cement their spot in the quarterfinals. With that win, they quickly became favourites to make the final, with dangerous teams such as Starblaydia, Abanhfleft and Ko-oren all in the other half of a stacked draw. Today's opponents would be Freeport who came through a tight game of their own against Cosumar to set up this fixture today. The Young Eaglets and their fans have travelled all the way to Whitetail for this match, with the idyllic host venue of Shady Grove in the spotlight for tonight's match, after hosting action from Group B previously. Let's see whether their fabulous run could continue against Freeport, with action of the fourth and final quarterfinal of the U18 World Cup

U18 World Cup: Freeport Shopping Centre > Freeport National Team

FINAL SCORE
U18WC | QF

MERCEDINI 3
Arrighi 9', Estograd 57' (P), Meucci 90+1'
FREEPORT 0

Whitetail, Equestrian States
Attendance - 41,994
Compared to their Round of 16 match against Baker Park, Mercedini's match against Freeport was much simpler performance wise as the clinical edge won the day for the team in blue and black, comprehensively beating local favourites Freeport by three goals to nil to put Mercedini into their third semi-final in five editions, in rather convincing fashion. Devidov rested numerous key players following the extra-time win in Manehattan, citing fatigue issues and squad rotation as the reason for changes to the starting XI. The smaller stadium and the lower allowance for travelling fans meant there were fewer Mercedinians in the stadium compared to previous rounds, but Mercedinians who travelled without a ticket slowly drifted into the plethora of open bars and pubs around the stadium, which were showing live coverage of the match.

As for the match, Mercedini had been here before in the past, both in the third and fourth editions when Mercedini went on to scoop bronze and gold at the tournaments respectively, so Devidov had plenty of experience on how to control the pace of play in crucial knockout matches such as this one. Dini came storming out of the gate early, looking for an early goal through Arrighi and Estograd who were pushing high against their defenders who had little time on the ball to make a play before being closed down by the Mercedinian pairing. The expansive pitch became a nightmare for both sets of defenders, with plenty of pockets to run into for both sets of attackers. Freeport crafted the opening chance of the game when their main striker broke free from Ally Dandic to curve an out swinging shot towards goal, but Merlo was always covering the far post with the ball fizzing narrowly wide. That early chance seemed to awaken the beast from within the designated home side, and scored the opening goal from the subsequent goal kick. A long kick from Merlo was flicked on by Lorano in midfield, with Arrighi reading the action and forming a run before his marker could react to the situation. That split second hesitation proved costly, with Arrighi taking one touch before blasting the ball past the oncoming goalkeeper and into the top corner for the opening goal. Arrighi's run continuation took him in front of the Mercedinian fans where he celebrated with those fans and the rest of the team who joined him, the perfect start to the game.

That opening goal didn't seem to phase the Freeport side who had already gone through a tough game against Cosumar to get to this point, so they know all about breaking down good sides and getting a solid result from the game. Freeport looked the stronger side before that goal, with one lapse of concentration costing them dearly in the opening moments of the game. Dandic and Petrosino were kept busy at the back with long balls and scything passes being made by the Freeport team, to try and break down the Mercedinian resolve which had held firm thus far. Both sets of fans were slowly biting through their nails as half-time approached, both teams going close on numerous occasions. Dini nearly doubled their lead in the final five minutes of the half as a Nesci cross found the head of Estograd, only to be denied by a last gasp parry onto the post. Similarly, first half stoppage time gave Freeport their best chance of the half, with the low drilled shot ricocheting off the post and back into open play. At the second attempt, the ball was put into the net but that joy was short lived due to the linesman on the far side raising his flag for an offside infringement. Alas, the second goal in the match proved illusive as the Young Eaglets went in with a one-goal advantage to their name.

With the teams back out for the second half and all of the other three matches underway for their second half, the semi-final complexion was beginning to take shape with some teams making a statement and some teams falling away under the pressure of the occasion. Both teams were still in this match, with both having the potential to win the game with the chances they were having before the break. Dini obviously held the goal advantage, and were looking to build on their momentum by pulling the game away from the grasp of the Freeport team. Both managers looked on with interest as their players commenced the second half, with both sets of fans trying to rally their team with their favourite national chants.

The match was balanced on a knife edge, but Dini were given the opportunity to give themselves a bit of breathing space in the match with the awarding of a penalty due to a rather suspect tackle from one of the Freeport defenders. Mercedini were enjoying a sustained period of possession in the match, with a quick through ball trying to reach Arrighi towards the by-line. Arrighi took a touch before being hauled down by his marker, the Ogdenagorv striker did seem to be looking for it as he went down, but the referee obliged which gave Estograd a big opportunity to double the lead of his team and notch up another goal on his tally for the tournament. Estograd's slow run up was compensated as the Acoflosa youngster blasted the ball to his left to score.

Freeport now had it all to do as they attempted to salvage something from the game, something that was made all the more difficult as Mercedini was now sitting back to control the pace of the game and to preserve their two-goal lead that they had worked so hard to achieve. Dini are known for making matches boring and incredibly hard to match when they are leading in important games, but their tactics have been known to work and has won them trophies in the past, so there was little chance of anything changing at this point in time. Arrighi and Estograd fell back into a midfield role to essentially make it a 4-6-0 on the field, frustrating the Freeport fans and the locals who had paid good money to see an entertaining match.

Freeport couldn't muster any more chances in the game unfortunately, and that gave the Young Eaglets the chance to run up the score at the end of the match to make the results all the more convincing from a bystander's point of view. Mercedini netted a third in the dying embers of the game, and marked a first goal in Mercedinian colours for Brando Meucci who's strong header inside the six-yard box couldn't be stopped by the two men on the post, giving Mercedini their third before the clock ran out, although the match result was fairly conclusive before that point. The referee blew his whistle for the end of the match just a couple of minutes later, with Mercedini running out 3-0 winners in the biggest win out of any of the four quarterfinals. Freeport bow out of the cup following a valiant effort from the team which took a number of scalps with them.

That conculdes our coverage of the Under-18 World Cup Quarterfinals here in the Equestrian States. The intensity of the tournament is begining to be edged up as the tournament beings to reach it's conlcusion. There is still a possibility of a rematch between Mercedini and Starblaydia, with both teams from Group E still in the mix following their winner-take-all MD3 fixture which resulted in a stunning fightback and a 3-1 Starblaydi victory to top the group. Mercedini will move forward to face Oberour Ar Moro in their semi-final matchup, with Dini's U18s hoping to inflict the same result that the senior team inflicted upon OAM in World Cup Qualifying (8-2 for those not in the loop). Starblaydia and Ko-oren, two very strong teams, will face off in the other semi-final, before we find out who will be contesting the World Cup Final and who will have to playoff for third place. It's beginning to get very exciting, but from the Equestrian States, goodnight!
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Equestrian States
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Postby Equestrian States » Tue Feb 12, 2019 9:26 pm

Quarterfinals Results

Ko-oren 1–2 Starblaydia

Oberour Ar Moro 0–4 Mercedini

Third Place Playoff

Ko-oren vs. Oberour Ar Moro

Final

Starblaydia vs. Mercedini
Last edited by Equestrian States on Tue Feb 12, 2019 9:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Mercedini
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Postby Mercedini » Thu Feb 14, 2019 11:33 am

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7th Under-18 World Cup Semifinals
Oberour Ar Moro vs. Mercedini
@ Wild Grounds - Everfree, Equestrian States


Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome back once again to Mercedini Sports Daily's coverage of the Under-18 World Cup, with this edition being hosted by the Equestrian States and their great sporting infrastructure that they have following many decades of sporting success in the nation. We're down to the nitty gritty in this tournament with the final four teams remaining, all within touching distance of the trophy. It's gearing up to be one of the most competitive tournaments in the history of the tournament with all four sides giving tremendous performances to get to this point, with the looming potential rematch of Starblaydia vs. Mercedini still in the balance to make it a special ending to the tournament for both sides following their group stage final day encounter which ended in a crucial Starblaydian victory. Mercedini were now in semi-final action against Oberour Ar Moro for a chance at the Young Eaglet's second final, whereas OAM were breaking all kinds of records for their deepest run in a World Cup at any age level. The picturesque Wild Grounds was the stage for the second semi-final, so let's see whether Mercedini could do it all again in their quest for a second title, as the two teams faced off in Everfree.

Under 18 World Cup: Full Circle For The Chance At Glory

FINAL SCORE
U18WC | SF

OBEROUR AR MORO 0
MERCEDINI 4
Vacek Jr 21', 44', Pisar 29', Eureska 79'

Everfree, Equestrian States
Attendance - 52,373
Dini U18s will have a crack at their second tournament title against Starblaydia, in a match which will have meant the tournament would have gone nearly full circle since the final group stage match. They came through their semi-final match in fairly convincing fashion, beating OAM by four goals to nil which was the perfect way to set up a relatively stress-free final for the team against the team which inflicted their only loss of the tournament on the team. Vacek, Pisar and Eureska were all on target for the national side as they wrapped up the game with time to spare, allowing Devidov to rest some key players in time for their big final in a couple of days.

It was to the rather picturesque city of Everfree and their equally impressive Wild Ground which was the host for the night's quarterfinal featuring the two teams who had both had to get through five matches before this to get to this point, even if the previous two were the crucial matches that would've resulted in instant elimination if there was any slip up for either of the two teams. The two crystal-white arches towered high above the heads of the spectators in the stadium, with locals plus both sets of travelling fans whipping up a storm as the two teams marched out onto the pitch. With undoubtedly millions of people watching at home, it was a moment of reflection and of understanding as the twenty-two players on the hallowed turf looked out to understand the magnitude of what they were about to embark on.

They referee blew his whistle for the beginning of the game as a collective inhale of breath was felt around the stadium for the next two hours of action inside the Wild Grounds. Mercedini were playing at full strength in their signature black and blue ediraf kits with Vacek Jr and Estograd upfront once again, while Mario Merlo was in front of the sticks for the sixth game in a row at this tournament. Meanwhile, Oberour were in their usual brown and gold kits reflecting their flag's colours, with both sets of fans nicely contrasted against each other thanks to their differing colours in the stands. The excited locals were in the centre of them both, with a number of different flags waving as most Everfree natives were seeing these teams play for the first time.

Very difficult first twenty minutes for both sides as the nightly breeze was wafting through the stadium and distorting any long ball sent forward or back by either team, resulting in some rather frustrated reactions from the players who just couldn't get the ball right to give their team the chance they needed. However, Vacek was on hand to bail his team out of a rather frustrating first quarter by netting the opening goal of the game in front of his own fans. A simple run from the Anglatian-born player beat the offside trap via a through ball from Lorano. Vacek only needed to beat the oncoming goalkeeper but a simple touch around him took the ball away from the OAM goalkeeper and opened up the goal for Vacek to slot home for the first goal of the game. The rest of the team rushed over to him in the corner with wild celebrations in that portion of the stadium, and it was only going to get better with the next big chance of the game.

A Mercedinian corner on the far side revealed itself to be another chance for Dini to get another on the board for their cause. With Eureska curling a high cross into the box to target a number of heads that were jostling about in the area. Colineri flicked a header at the near post into the danger area, only for the goalkeeper to get a strong hand to the ball which looked to have been going in at the time. That strong palm didn't deal with the as the ball fell to the waiting Pisar inside the six-yard box who only needed a weak prod to roll the ball over the line for a quick second goal in the match. Dini had ran away with a couple of matches at this tournament to run up the score, and it was looking like it was going to be another one of those matches for the team who had one eye on the final already.

In their previous semi-final at this tournament, Dini blew away then-hosts Filindostan by five goals to one in their semi-final to put their name in their first final (which they would eventually go on to win on penalties), and they look good value for their two goal lead in the match thus far, but the Young Eaglets knew all too well about how quickly a lead can evaporate, just like in their third matchday loss to Starblaydia which inflicted their first group stage loss for the team in any U18 tournament. Oberour were trying to get themselves out of a rut that was the Mercedinian attacking duo in Vacek and Estograd, their pressure upfront wasn't gifting the OAM defence any time on the ball.

With half-time approaching, Mercedini added a third to all but wrap up the game before half-time, and is was Vacek who got his second of the game with a simple low drive after the defence gifted him too much space on the edge of the box. The Mercedinian international turned his body before firing low into the far corner, beating the low dive of the OAM goalkeeper who was beaten for the third time in the first forty-five minutes of the game, something that was becoming all too common for sides facing Mercedini at this tournament. Vacek strolled in front of the home fans once again and celebrated with them and his team, Devidov looked pleased with his team's work, they just had to see the game through. A couple of minutes later, the referee blew his whistle for half-time in the match, with Dini 3-0 up at the break.

The teams came back out following the fifteen minute break at the Wild Ground in Everfree, with the Mercedinians making all the noise in the stadium during the downtime as the rest of the fans moved from their seats for refreshments or for a restroom break. Devidov and his players entered the pitch early to send a message to the other side and to assert their confidence and dominance on the match, with Starblaydia and Ko-oren still playing in a tight match in their semi-final. The temperature was beginning to drop in the stadium as night began to fall in the Equestrian States, three-quarters of an hour stood between the Young Eaglets and their second World Cup final at Under-18 level. The main question was who they would face from the other semi-final.

Action began in the second half, but this time, OAM came out as the stronger side in the tie as they came out looking for a goal and a way back into the game. The defenders and the goalkeeper were kept busy for vast swathes of the opening period in Everfree, even if chances were few and far between for both sides, which suited Mercedini better considering they were defending an established three goal lead from the opening 45 minutes of the semi-final. Merlo's clean sheet was under threat at this point, but the young Mercedini held his nerve under pressure to keep out a number of dangerous set pieces from the opposition which could have easily snuck in to give Devidov and his players a number of problems as time ticked down.

Those Merlo saves were given extra importance as Mercedini took control of the game once again, this time with a Jackson Eureska goal which game from the breakdown of an OAM attack. Oberour were enjoying plenty of sustained possession in front of the Mercedinian goal, but a misplaced pass from their midfield was pounced upon by Pisar, who wasted no time in hoofing the ball upfield for one of the two players upfront to chase. Vacek Jr's pace and athleticism meant he got to the ball first and took a quick touch to take it away from his marker. A long ball across the field found the bounding run of Eureska down the wing, with the Mercedinian all on his own against the goalkeeper. The one-on-one looked a forgone conclusion when Eureska dinked a simple chip over the keeper for his first and Mercedini's fourth, the game was now all wrapped up and Dini were heading for another final!

All Mercedini had to do was hold on to their clean sheet for the match, and that they did with a rather mature end to their exuberant performance in Everfree, Vacek and co all looked on top form for the Mercedinian national team as they cruised through to another final. I'm hearing Starblaydia have won their semi-final by a narrow margin which will indeed set up the blockbuster finish both sets of fans had desperately wanted. Starblaydia have the advantage with that earlier group stage victory plus the momentum of six wins on the bounce, but Mercedini have done it all before, albeit with a completely different team from this one. At the Wild Grounds, it finished Oberour Ar Moto 0, Mercedini 4!

That conculdes our coverage of the Under-18 World Cup Semis here in the Equestrian States. We have built up to this moment in the tournament where millions will watch onto see the spectacle of a World Cup final. The Equestrian States have been a wonderful host thus far, hosting in some of the most exotic regions in their nation. The Young Eaglets will have another crack at Starblaydia, with the star quality of Vacek Jr facing off against the tournament top scorer and almost certainly future Galactico winner McCloud on the field for the second and final time at this tournament. We hope you will join us for that, but for now in the Equestrian States, Andiamo!
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World CupBest: Group Stage ('77)
Cup of HarmonyBest: Champion ('72)
U21 World Cup (DBC)Best: Round of 16 (3x)
U18 World Cup (SWC)Best: Champions ('4)
Independents CupBest: 2nd Place ('3)
WC of HockeyBest: 4th Place ('35)
WJHCBest: Champions ('13)
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Postby Starblaydia » Thu Feb 14, 2019 12:18 pm

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Six out of Six for Sporting Showdown
Starblaydia U18s to face Mercedini in Final

Image
Defender Ursula Naaman was the game's MVP for her
all-round performance, including Starblaydia's
opening goal in their 2-1 victory.
The evening air of Crystopolis resounded with the cheers of the travelling contingent of Starblaydi fans and interested Equestrian neutrals celebrated the sixth win in a row for Starblaydia's Under-18 side as they have made a dream run, straight to the Final of the 7th Sporting World Cup. In Starblaydia's first entry into the competition, they're reached the Final, and Ázëwyn Fëanáro looks like she's made the perfect choices for this team so far, coming through with twenty-one goals to their name, with eleven of them for scoring sensation Sutter McCloud.The Foxchester Raiders player, who is already a Tiberius Cup winner thanks to a defining moment of the domestic season alongside teammates like national team star Mezna Rayyen and fellow Under-21 stalwart Kaori Yamaguchi. Would surely be one of the hottest young properties in the world were he up for sale, but Foxchester Raiders are a club who have always prided themselves on their voracious attacking talent and they're not about to let him go any time soon.

Before they could get to the Final, however, Starblaydia had to manage to find a way through a solid and stubborn Ko-oren side, fresh from their comfortable victory over the Pepsi Governate of Korea in the Quarter-Final. The Ko-orenite team is drawn from across the finest young players, drilled effectively and set into a series of defensive patterns that would make the parking lot of the hotel where the International Union of Bus Drivers' Annual General Meeting is taking place look like a haphazard mess of hastily arranged demolition derbies. They have, however, been experimenting with transitions to attacking modes of play using multi-role defenders adding their innate creative instincts to the middle of the park. Ironic, then, that it would be a Starblaydi defender who's all-round performance changed the game at a crucial moment, putting Starblaydia on course for their first Under-21 final in their short time as an official part of the Starblaydi Football Association's international setup.

Collecting her Player of the Match trophy after the game from fellow goalscorer Sutter McCloud, Ursula Naaman reiterated Ázëwyn Fëanáro's own comments that everything comes one game at a time, what's done is done and the next result is all that matters. Just because Starblaydia have already beaten their Final opponents in the Group Stage, it has no bearing on who starts as favourites for the Final:

"Don't forget that Mercedini have won this competition already," Naaman said, "or, rather, before. Their system is used to that success, works off the back of it to push on, and there's a repeatable goal to aim for. For us, we know we've not won anything as a nation for what seems like forever. Just because the Manager did it before as a player, doesn't mean that's automatically going to be ours without maximum effort for the remainder of this tournament."

It was certainly a proud day for the Naaman family and the Vics' Youth Academy. Despite their team finishing bottom of Liga Starblaydia, their number one girl did herself and her country proud in this match. Although the scoring was opened with a little more than half an hour played, Yohachi Okumura's goal coming after Thaddeus Rampton had brought the ball into midfield and stayed there, pulling the strings with his passing for a short stint. Suddenly the extra man in midfield had messed with Starblaydia's formation, disrupting it, and Ko-oren were ahead. Crucially, this was somewhat against the run of play, but Fëanáro's team, under the continual barking orders of Makuszewski, fought their way back into contention. Naaman won the ball from Nishihara in defence, which broke to Escerra. After deciding what to do with it, he passed back to Naaman, who broke forward into the Ko-orenite half of the pitch. Feeling a sudden nosebleed from being quite so high up the pitch, she squared it wide to Krakowski, who calmly trapped the ball, put his foot on it, and gestured her to go further forward. Naaman continued to jog forward as the Starblaydi captain slid the ball down the outside to McCloud, who took it inside of Ennosuke Aki and sprinted clear into the short space of the backfield. As Alan Eccleston drew defenders, Calindra Apelles made a nuisance of herself, and Kaori Yamaguchi ensured the play could be spread wide onto Starblaydia's right wing, Naaman kept moving forward. From McCloud's cross, to Eccleston's deft flick, the ball dropped perfectly at Ursula Naaman's feet and she blasted it into the back of the net with her left foot at the first time of asking. It was just before the half time whistle, too, sending Starblaydia into the dressing room on a wave of positive energy.

The wave continued into the second half as a Starblaydi side bouyed by knowing they could score against this Ko-oren defence piled forward in search of taking the lead. They didn't have to wait too long for an opportunity as Yamaguchi's cross was perfectly placed for Alan Eccleston's downward header, but side netting and a goal kick was the result. The Starblaydi-supporting section of the crowd, centred around a contingent of travelling fans standing out in their white and purple, along with a smattering of supporters of various nationalities around the stadium, cheered on the exciting attacking play, but almost as many were there to cheer the defensive specialities of Ko-oren. Almost nobody was happy, however, when Calindra Apelles was felled on the left wing by a stiff challenge, and the referee whistled for a free kick. Whether jeering for no foul on the perfectly legal challenge, or jeering for no card on the teribly timed piece of rough play, there was one player that got on with it: Ursula Naaman.

The full-back sprinted up to where the free kick was to be taken, put her hand on the ball to steady it and waved her teammates forward, breifly dikrecting traffic from out wide on the left, standing over the dead ball. The referee blew for the game to restart and Naaman whipped in a cross from the set piece, with all of Starblaydia's big units in the box, tyring to throw themselves at the oncoming ball like so many fish leaping against the current of a fast-flowing river. The Ko-orenite defence didn't give in to this bull-rush of an attacking thrust, but when the ball fell in the box, it fell to Sutter McCloud. Fiirst touch, back to goal, on the turn, he hooked the ball from waist height towards the goal, and the goalkeeper was rooted to the spot, wrongfooted in the chaos of a full penalty area, Starblaydia were ahead, and if there's one thing that we've learned this team is able to do apart from score goals, it is protect leads.

For the rest of the game, the defence didn't give an inch, holding firm against the patient, build from the back style of play that Ko-ren have used so effectively to get to this point in the tournament.There was great play on both sides, but ultimately Starblaydia held on to make it to their first tournament final in... well, let's just say it's so long ago we had to look it up, and it's been such a lengthy period of time that it might as well not even be relevant to the match tomorrow. It's sufficient to say that this group of young Starblaydi players will be attempting to make history in the Royal Equestria Stadium against a team they have played, and beaten, already at these championships.

Final score from Imperial Arena, Crystopolis (67,953)
Ko-oren 1 - 2 Starblaydia
(Okumura 34') - (Naaman 43', McCloud 52')

Next up...

"The Rematch"

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Six-Time World Cup Committee President (WCs 25-33, 46-51 & 82*)
Co-host of World Cups 20, 40 & 80 • Di Bradini Cup Organiser
World Cups 30 & 63 Runner-Up • World Cup 27 Third Place • 25th Baptism of Fire Runner-Up
Six-Time AOCAF Cup Champions • Two-time U21WC Champions • Men's Football Olympic Champions, Ashford Games
Five-Time Cherry Cup Champions • 1st Quidditch World Cup Champions • WGPC8 Drivers' Champion
The Protectorate of Starblaydia
Commended by WA Security Council Resolution #40
Five-Time NS World Cup Champions (WCs 25, 28, 41, 44 & 47)

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