Southampton will face African side Right To Dream in the final of the Junior Section of the 2015 Dale Farm Milk Cup later today.
Saints’ under-16s, led by new coach Rob Edwards, beat their Liverpool counterparts 3-1 in yesterday’s semi-final to move within touching distance of winning the prestigious youth tournament.
The Milk Cup – officially the Northern Ireland Youth Soccer Tournament – has been running since 1983, with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Radamel Falcao, Sergio Busquets and Mats Hummels featuring in the competition during their younger years.
Saints’ Milk Cup campaign started on Monday with a 3-0 win over Mexican side Zacatapec, following that up a day later with a 2-1 victory over County Londonderry of Northern Ireland.
There was a third win on Wednesday as the youngsters demolished American outfit Orange County Blues 4-0, meaning Saints topped ended the group stage with the best overall record of the 24 participating sides.
That set up yesterday’s semi-final against third-placed Liverpool, with Saints taking the lead after 15 minutes as Jake Vokins’ driven cross was turned into the net by opposition defender Andrew Jackson.
Nine minutes later Saints doubled their lead, after Jonathan Afalabi powerfully headed home from a corner.
Edwards’ side were quick out of the blocks in the second half, making it 3-0 after just three minutes after the restart. Liverpool defender Abdi Sharif lost the ball on the edge of the box after being tackled by Vokins, who went on to score from a tight angle.
The Reds pulled one back with a consolation goal five minutes later when Neco Williams reacted first to score following a scrap in the penalty area, but Saints were good value for the win and their place in the final.
Academy Manager Matt Hale says he has been impressed by the way the club’s young players have dealt with the challenge of playing numerous sides in such a short space of time.
He commented: “[The Liverpool game] was a different challenge again for the boys – we have had that each game since we have been here and, to be fair to the boys, they have come up against different tests and done really well whatever the challenge be.
“It will be a different challenge again in the final again no doubt and I look forward to see how the boys handle that.”
The final against Right To Dream will take place this evening at 6pm at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
Saints’ opposition, Right To Dream, are a African football academy side based in Ghana, with more 90 students from seven different African countries.