In a fixture of high drama in South Africa Arsenal’s youngsters progressed to the Final of the Durban U19 Football Tournament by prevailing 4-2 on penalties against Stuttgart following a 1-1 draw in regulation time.
Yassin Fortune had put the Gunners ahead with a fine finish, but the German side levelled to send the game to spot-kicks. Arsenal’s heroes in the shootout were goalkeeper Ryan Huddart, who made two excellent stops, and substitute Gedion Zelalem, who converted the successful penalty.
Arsenal’s team selection was rather strange considering the importance of this fixture, with Zelalem, Julio Pleguezuelo and Chris Willock all left on the bench, although Zelalem’s omission may have been due to fatigue.
Subs: Keto, Eyoma, M. Bola, T. Bola, Pleguezuelo, Zelalem, C. Willock.
It was an even first-half between two technically-talented sides. There was little in the way of clear-cut goalscoring chances early on, but Arsenal’s best efforts in the opening period fell to Ben Sheaf and Savvas Mourgos.
Fortune was impressive up front but the French striker didn’t receive much service in the first-half.
Stuttgart started the second period in the ascendancy, with Huddart having to make a good save.
Soon, though, Arsenal were able to create chances of their own and they took the lead when Savvas Mourgos did well to find Fortune, who cut inside from the left flank and finished very calmly.
Fortune could have made it 2-0 shortly afterwards but he saw his header cleared away by the Stuttgart defence. That proved to be the youngster’s final contribution as he then suffered an injury which led to him being replaced by Willock.
Arsenal were just about holding on, but some inventive play from Stuttgart saw the German side draw level. Georgios Spanoudakis, a former Arsenal trialist, did well to win the ball and he found Ozcan, whose shot was beyond the reach of Huddart.
Arsenal were living dangerously late on, with Huddart having to make an excellent save to keep the scores level. The Gunners introduced Zelalem with ten minutes of normal time remaining and, even though he didn’t have an impact during the game, that change proved to be a crucial one with the midfielder converting the decisive penalty.
Both sides successfully converted their first two penalties, with Ben Sheaf and Chris Willock finding the net for Arsenal. Matters looked to have swung in Arsenal’s favour when Huddart made a good save to stop the next Stuttgart penalty.
However, Stefan O’Connor sent his spot-kick wildly over the crossbar, presenting Stuttgart with a lifeline. They were unable to seize the opportunity, however, with Huddart making another save before Zelalem calmly converted the all-important penalty to send Arsenal through to the Final.