Norwich under-21s beat Villareal under-21s 1-0 in the Barclays Premier League International Cup.
Having lost their opening fixture to a very strong PSV Eindhoven side (four of whom went on to play in the 2-1 victory over Manchester United in the Champions League last month) Norwich U21 needed a victory from their second group game against Villareal to stand a chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds. Villareal’s under-21 team play in the same league as Real Madrid and Barcelona’s, and are currently first, having won six of their opening seven games.
In a relatively relaxed first half, both teams were restricted to only a handful of snatched chances between them. Solid defending, as well as the occasional absence of penetrating runs from the obviously nervous forwards, three of whom were 16 years old, meant players were rarely able to get in behind the opposing defence. The best chance of the first half fell to Villareal, with Leo Suarez’s inward-curling free kick being tipped around the post by Canaries keeper Killip.
The second half opened similarly to the first, with neither team threatening the other’s goal too severely. That was until, in the 55th minute, Middleton was bought down after a 60-yard run just inside the box by a hapless Carlos Julio Martinez. Benny Ashley-Seal stepped up and took a rather poor penalty, side footing the ball without any real pace or direction squarely at the keeper. His head dropped momentarily, and he needed a friendly word before he could regain his concentration.
The game really kicked off following a defensive mix up in the Norwich area. A back pass to Killip was badly controlled by the keeper before the ball rolled worryingly towards the goal line, Killip only just saving his own blushes by hacking it clear at the last moment. From that clearance, Norwich began a nice passing move that resulted in the ball finding Louis Ramsay 20 yards away from goal. The left back, the most attacking minded of the back four, took a touch before beautifully curling a shot in to the top corner of Cantero’s goal, leaving him with no chance.
Villareal’s obvious annoyance at their performance caused the game to take a rather nasty turn. Time wasting from Norwich resulted in a minor scuffle. Martinez, the same player responsible for the penalty, needlessly got involved and slammed a Norwich player to the ground, earning himself a straight red card. The remaining 15 minutes of the game were tense, with Villareal finally throwing everyone forward. In the end Norwich were lucky to see themselves through as Fran Sol missed an open goal from three yards out. All in all, however, it was still a successful European foray for the young Canaries.