Published: Saturday, 21 January 2017 23:45

The winner’s path: twenty against one!

The size 5 football balls have been clearly heard in the Saint Petersburg Sports and Concert complex for almost two weeks in January. This Saturday witnessed the last of the 48 matches of the XXIX Granatkin Memorial that gathered 16 teams in its 2017 edition. The organizers divided all teams into 4 groups to ease the scheme and to make the tournament rhythm faster. Two best teams from each group reached quarter-finals hoping to take medal places eventually, whereas the rest had to play for the places from 9th to 16th.

Let’s make an original walk and start the Granatkin Memorial 2017 overview with a team that finished on the last 16th place - India. No doubt, this team added bright colors and genuine football charm to the Saint Petersburg tournament.  The young players of India (the team consisted of footballers born in 2000 and 2001, not in 1999 like most of the others) were lacking energy on the field and were also inferior with regard to anthropometric parameters compared to all other opponents.  Nevertheless the team led by the Head coach Nicolai Adam managed to show quite spectacular play thanks to their persistent passion. Their two players – Sanjeev Stalin and Thangjam Boris Singh – got themselves remembered for more than just their resounding names. The German Nicolai Adam got into memory by his expressive behavior on the previous Granatkin Memorial when he was coaching Azerbaijan. He did not change his habits with a young team of India and surely became a bright hero on the tournament this year.

Tajikistan is the team to be sympathized. They started with a sensational 1:0 win against Greece. They finished the Saint Petersburg tournament with the same winning score against India. But between these two games the youth Tajikistan players were unstable, creating a lot of chances in four matches but converting only a few of them into goals. As a result, the team led by Vitalii Levchenko finished far even from the top ten.

In fact, we feel pity for all the teams that are lower than the top ten in the final standings. Iran demonstrated powerful potential in several matches, but the team got unlucky as it was playing in the strongest group.  When Iran lost chances to take high final place, the young players of Abas Chamanian got a bit disappointed and were finishing the tournament with less bright emotions.

The tournament statistics of the 13th placed Lithuania turned out to be quite interesting. It got a win, then a draw and then it lost. Their “collection” lacked only a win and a defeat in penalty shoot-out, which they successfully managed to acquire during the play-offs matches!  A hat-trick by Titas Aukštuolis in the last match added positive emotions to the Lithuanian tournament CV. Vytautas Vaškūnas unanimously won an informal prize given by the Granatkin Memorial 2017 LOC to “The Most Liked Head coach”.

Another Baltic country took the “neighboring” 12th place – Estonia got higher than Lithuania, but this fact could not really make the Estonian Head coach Lars Hopp happy, as his team had a number of problems to sort out throughout the tournament... There were another two Head coaches who also received rich data for analysis on the interesting and important “How to play better?” topic – Oleg Fistican from Moldova (11th place) and Raman Kirenkin from Belarus (10th place). The defeat of Belarus against India posed many questions.

The final 9th place of Azerbaijan can be regarded as not fair. Tabriz Hasanov and his coaching staff were raising their hands in the air during the entire tournament watching their young Azerbaijan players possessing the initiative and territory almost all of the time, but missing chances one after another. Well, you need to score, if you want to win…

Slovenia is following an interesting trajectory on the Granatkin Memorials. They made their tournament debut in 2013 where they finished 7th. A year later they were 8th. But then Igor Benedejčič took over the team, and things went better – bronze medals in 2015 and gold in 2016, when the Slovenians defeated the team of Saint Petersburg in the final match! There was no higher place to desire, and so the Balkan team (still led by Benedejčič ) took the 7th in 2017 – just like in 2013! A circle movement one would think?

The match for the 7th place saw Slovenia defeating Bulgaria – the team that was unable to form any solid impression about itself on this tournament. Moreover, the successors of glorious Bulgarian goalscorers Petar Zhekov and Hristo Stoichkov scored only 2 goals in 6 matches! Let us believe the Head coach Viktorio Pavlov who kept on sadly saying that the leading football clubs of his country did not let too many young Bulgarian players take part in the Granatkin Memorial…

Latvia finished 6th, and this result can be viewed as decent, although there was an impression throughout the tournament that this team was capable of more. Unfortunately, it was not lucky in Saint Petersburg because two of its leading players (the defender Vladislavs Soloveičiks was especially good in the beginning of the tournament) got injured and the third went on trials to one of the clubs of the German Bundesliga. As a result, the Head coach Aleksandrs Basovs clearly lacked the players…

Slovakia had a bit different situation. They defeated Latvia in the match for the 5th place, but their pre-tournament expectations were higher. As it eventually turned out these expectations were mostly formed based on previous years when Milan Malatinsky (this was his fourth time on the tournament) was bringing young “stars” to the Granatkin Memorial. This year Frederik Valach even received the prize as the Best Goalkeeper, but the real issue was in the attacking line as the team was hardly scoring the goals. Unfortunately their squad did not have another Lukáš Haraslín who was starring in Saint Petersburg three years ago…

The nominal “wooden” medals for the bitterest 4th place were given to Greece. Many experts who were watching this team from the stands called this team the most spectacular on the tournament. This might be right, but the ups and downs in the play of the young players led by EURO-2004 Champion Ioannis Gkoumas were quite significant. As a result, the Greeks had a bad start and a bad finish on the tournament and did not manage to show their full technical potential.

As it seemed the team of Saint Petersburg literally jumped onto the third place, which some experts assessed as their top possible result. This is even more surprising, because right before the tournament Vladimir Kazachionok agreed to “transfer” five of his leading players to team Russia. But nevertheless the famous Saint Petersburg football coach managed not just to fill the gaps in the squad, but even to win the bronze medals! Yes, formally it’s a step back, because last year Saint Petersburg got the 2nd place. In fact, given the force majeure this is a definite step forward, maybe even more than one step… Let us also congratulate Efrem Vartanyan for the young FC Zenit player became the Top Goalscorer on the tournament with 5 goals.

The most pleasant discovery on this Granatkin Memorial was the youth team of Kazakhstan and its young coach Alexander Kuznetsov. The 0:0 final score of their first match against Slovakia seemed like a sensation. Their second draw with the strong team of Azerbaijan 2:2 was perceived as due. But then Kazakhstan started winning on the tournament, and again there were not that many experts who were surprised. Two individual prizes – the Best Midfielder (Oral Aidos) and the Best Forward (Yerkebulan Seidakhmet) – became a well-deserved addition to their second overall place on the Granatkin Memorial 2017. Fast and flexible Seidakhmet got himself especially remembered. This 16-year-old player should have a bright football future. Let us wish the same to all his teammates.

The 1st place was taken by the youth national team of Russia that was headed by Mikhail Galaktionov, still a very young Head coach who is only 32. It was him who “loaned” five players from Saint Petersburg, but this was out of need. It is clear that the application list of Russia was far from being optimal. Several top Russian football clubs did not let their youth players participate in the Granatkin Memorial. As it seemed, the coaching staff was especially counting on the footballers from FC Krasnodar…

But as they say “every cloud has a silver lining”. The reinforcement from Saint Petersburg turned out to be very successful for Russia, and two players out of five even got individual prizes – Stanislav Utkin from Zenit School became the Best Defender and Nikita Kakkoev became the Best Player of the tournament! There were other players who left a good impression and who are worth mentioning – Dmitry Veber from FC Rostov, Aleksander Rudenko from FC Spartak, Dmitrii Tsypchenko and his teammate the goalkeeper Ivan Lomaev from FC Chertanovo… All the other tournament winners also deserve good words, especially for the tournament statistics – Russia conceded just one goal and scored 20 times more!





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