After two days of competition in the Chelsea International Tournament, only one team has a 100% record at the end of the group stage. Hosts Chelsea cruised into Monday’s Semi Finals with a pair of victories on a long Sunday of football, first beating Suwon Blue Wings 2-1 in a hard-hitting match before closing the day with an 8-0 mauling of Al-Nejmeh of Lebanon.
Coach Dermott Drummy opted to keep the same starting eleven for the morning’s match against the Koreans as started against River Plate. This meant Billy Clifford continued in his unfamiliar right-back role (one he’s growing into) and Marko Mitrovic led the line off the back of his two goal performance yesterday. It only took four minutes for him to add another to his tournament tally, giving the hosts the lead with a towering header from an inswinging Billy Knott free kick.
The Blue Wings were determined not to be overawed or overrun, and used their superior size and strength to try and bully Chelsea. A number of crunching tackles and niggly incidents littered the first half, a trend that was to continue throughout with four yellow cards. Milan Lalkovic picked up the first of these after a late tackle which wasn’t aided by the slick grass, wet from the morning’s rain.
The rain wasn’t helping Chelsea’s game either. Suwon’s high line appealed to Knott and Lalkovic to try and break the offside trap, but the supply from MacEachran and Kaby was all too often overhit, or lofted aerially, picking up speed when it hit the surface. By contrast, James Ashton was having a superb game, his touch incredibly assured, keeping the play moving every time he had the ball and making the Blues tick.
Midway through the half, the Koreans drew level after a mistake from goalkeeper Jamal Blackman. The giant stopper completely midjudged an attempted punch clear in a melee and left an empty net for Myeon-won Soh to scramble the ball into. They didn’t really deserve it, but it stayed 1-1 until half time.
The second half started much the same as the first, with errant passes from most players and little incidents all over the pitch. One such earned both a Blue Wing and Ashton a booking, Ashton perhaps a little harshly done by, receiving a knee to the stomach whilst laying prone, and being booked for the initial shirt pull – although ultimately it was at the behest of a referee who had warned him at the end of the first half for persistent fouling.
It was going to take something out of the ordinary to break the stalemate, and it came ten minutes into the second period. A foul on Mitrovic on the edge of the area drew another booking, and vehement protests from the Koreans. Whilst sorting their wall, Knott clearly asked to take the free kick quickly, a request which was granted as he gently curled the ball into the unguarded net.
The performance wasn’t as impressive as the win over River yesterday, but they held onto the win to all but secure their place atop Group A. Aziz Deen-Conteh impressed again at left back but Ashton was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. Lalkovic was disappointingly quiet, Mitrovic was on the periphery of things throughout but has that ability to pop up and score, whilst Knott was a livewire throughout, wearing his heart on his sleeve (with the captain’s armband) and constantly talking – even if it was complaining at poor supply from his team-mates at times.
Elsewhere on site, River Plate got their first win, beating Al-Nejmeh 7-0 to put themselves back in with a chance of qualifying alongside Chelsea. Group B saw Disney’s All-Stars pick up their second win, beating Bayern Munich 1-0, with Ajax losing 2-0 to FC Togliatti to round things out.
After a long break for lunch and rest (and Wigan vs Chelsea), things got back underway at 5pm with the last round of group games. With qualification assured and the weakest opponents up next, Drummy rang the changes, giving seven players their first starts of the tournament whilst resting Mitrovic, Knott, MacEachran et al.
As it turned out, the ‘backups’ turned in the tournament’s most comprehensive performance, racking up an 8-0 victory. After Sadik Kamara had somehow contrived to send the ball flying over an open goal inside a minute, Alex Lozowski opened the scoring with a sweeping close range finish from Kamara’s cross. Anton Rodgers made it 2-0 midway through the half with a curling 20 yard effort into the top corner, over the tiny goalie’s reach, with Nathaniel Chalobah making it three shortly before half time with a stunning scissor kick from another Kamara cross.
Lozowski made it four instantly after the restart, flying to meet yet another Kamara cross with a bullet header from six yards. Rodgers also grabbed his second five minutes later, cushioning a side-footed volley from close range despite the Lebanese offside appeals. Deen-Conteh, by now playing on the right wing and wearing the captain’s armband, made it six by deceiving the goalkeeper into thinking a cross was coming and simply shooting into the unguarded near post, and then scored another with a left-footed version of Rodgers’ earlier 20 yard strike.
Rodgers completed the rout four minutes from time to complete his hat-trick from close range, and to compound a tournament of comprehensive defeats for Al-Nejmeh. However, for the Lebanese, the sheer experience of participation in such a tournament – an opportunity presented by Chelsea’s involvement with Right to Play – will live with them forever and is something Chelsea aim to do, in giving back what they have to others who may not be so fortunate.
After three rounds of games, the group tables finished thus:
|Suwon Blue Wings||3||1||0||2||7||4||3|
Meaning Monday’s fixtures are as follows:
Chelsea vs FC Togliatti
Disney’s All-Stars vs River Plate
(both 11am kickoffs)
Third team Playoff
Suwon Blue Wings vs Ajax
Fourth team Playoff
Al-Nemjeh vs Bayern Munich
(both 1pm kickoffs)
The tournament third/fourth place playoff match kicks off at 3pm, with the Final starting at 5pm.
A full review of the day will follow here tomorrow evening.
Selected pictures from Day Two can be viewed here.
Chelsea vs Suwon Blue Wings: Blackman, Clifford, Camilleri, Ince, Deen-Conteh, MacEachran, Ashton (Sampayo 55), Kaby (Rodgers 43), Lalkovic (Kamara 45), Knott, Mitrovic
Goals: Mitrovic 4, Knott 40
Booked: Lalkovic, Ashton
Chelsea vs Al-Nejmeh: Carey, Sampayo, Camilleri (c) (Ince 30), Chalobah, Saville, Rodgers, Kaby, Lozowski, Kamara, Deen-Conteh, Lalkovic
Goals: Lozowski 3, 31, Rodgers 14, 36, 56, Chalobah 24, Deen-Conteh 40, 55