Red Bull Salzburg's U-19 team is on its way to the 2016-17 UEFA Youth League final after a comeback win over FC Barcelona.
This year's tournament is only the fifth edition of what is effectively the UEFA U-19s Champions League, so no need to belabor the point that it will be Salzburg's first appearance in the final. That said, the final four of the competition to date has been restricted to a familiar pool of heavyweight clubs: Chelsea has twice won the title; Anderlecht has been to two semifinals; this year sees Real Madrid in the semis for the third time; Barcelona and Benfica returned to the final four this season for the first time since they contested the inaugural final in the 2013-14 season (Barcelona won).
So Salzburg had cracked an elite group merely by making the final four, and now it has more attention after beating the team representing what many still regard as the best soccer academy in the world: Barcelona's La Masia.
The match itself saw the two teams relatively evenly matched. Both teams appeared to enjoy the freedom to play their respective preferred styles: Barcelona taking a lot of possession; Salzburg pressing and counter-pressing selectively with the aim of forcing turnovers in the final third.
But early chances went begging at both ends, and it appeared the game might turn on one moment of individual brilliance. In the 19th minute, Jordi Mboula got the ball on the right wing, dribbled through three defenders, and curled his shot to the far side of goal when he still didn't really seem to have much of an angle to score.
Qué golazo acaba de marcar Jordi Mboula, la perla del FC Barcelona ante el Salzburgo sub 19 ️ pic.twitter.com/viM4TswAUV— Adrián Contreras (@AdriContrerass) April 21, 2017
The goal was the clear highlight of the game, and will further enhance Mboula's reputation as one of Europe's top attacking prospects.
But Salzburg stuck to the game plan, and Barcelona remained stubbornly determined to pass out of pressure at the back - a tactic that had repeatedly provided chances to the Red Bulls. In the 63rd minute, Hannes Wolf intercepted yet another ill-judged pass out of the Barcelona box, and buried his shot.
The goal seemed to energize Salzburg. And in the 84th minute, Wolf set up substitute Patson Daka for the second goal.
Daka was the joint-top scorer and MVP of the 2017 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations, leading his national team, Zambia, to the title. Now, he and his Salzburg teammates will play for a UEFA Youth League title on April 24.