In Champions League’s shadow UEFA’s Youth League continued their group stage this week. Youth League is like the Champions League for the U19-teams of the Champions League group stage participants. Youth League was launched last year and the first goal scorer was actually Manchester City’s Sinan Bytyqi. However it was Barcelona who went all the way to the final and won the first season. UEFA were convinced that Youth League was a success so they decided to play another round this year.
During the fall I have followed several Albanians and their teams around Europe. This week the group stage ended so I thought I’d inform you of the players that are participating in the second edition of UEFA’s Youth League since the draw for the knock-out phase is tomorrow. I love writing about tournaments for youngsters because there are so many hidden talents that don’t get the attention they deserve.
Last season our Albanians barely managed to make way on the goal scoring chart. Sinan Bytyqi (Manchester City), Albian Ajeti (Basel) and Shpetim Sulejmani (Basel) scored one goal each during the group stage however this year our Albanian youngsters were on fire. We had not one, but three Albanians that scored four goals each! We also had an Albanian who made the most assist during the group stage. Curious to find out more about them? Well keep reading!
The following Albanians are through to the next round:
Ardit Toli (Olympiakos):
The Greeks were runners up to Atletico Madrid and managed to make it through to the next round with the help of their Albanian duo. Albania’s U19 player Ardit Toli made his debut in UEFA’s Youth League this year and the 17-year old defender played from start in all six games.
Qazim Laci (Olympiakos), 4 goals during the group stage:
He represented Olympiakos last year in Youth League’s premiere season but they missed out on advancing to the next round however this year he finally made it happen. Laci was a vital piece to Olympiakos offense scoring a total of four goals during the group stage. Just like Toli he was on Olympiakos’ starting eleven in every game.
- His first goal was scored against Swedish Malmö FF. MFF had taken the lead early but Laci scored the equalizer and assisted to another goal which helped Olympiakos turn around and win by 3-1.
- Seven minutes after blowing the whistle during kickoff Albanian referee Bardhyl Pashaj added Qazim Laci to the score sheet. He gave Olympiakos an early lead but an own goal helped Juventus equalize.
- When it was Olympiakos turn to visit Italy they managed to beat Juventus by 3-0 and you guessed it, Laci scored again. He scored the final goal with three minutes left of the game.
- This week the 18-year old midfielder scored his fourth goal when MFF came to visit. He gave Olympiakos an early lead after 19 minutes, they were already through but could celebrate a 2-0 win afterwards.
Bersant Celina (Manchester City), 4 goals:
This kid is only 18 years old and he has already made his National Team debut at a senior level. Representing Kosovo, Celina was born and raised in Norway but moved to England not long ago to join Manchester City’s youth academy. Last season his team mate Sinan Bytyqi was the first player to ever score in Youth League history but this year Bersant Celina was the first Albanian to score in Youth League’s second addition. One goal was not enough for Celina, just like Olympiakos’ Qazim Laci he scored four goals. Celina played two games from start, was benched and then substituted in three times but he missed the game against CSKA Moscow though. City won their group and won all six games they played.
- The first goal was scored against Bayern München at their home turf. City had taken a 3-0 lead when Celina was substituted in min. 62. Four minutes later he scored City’s third goal but the Germans scored a goal at the end as well so the game ended with a 4-1 win for Celina’s team.
- When the Germans came to visit Celina was a part of City’s starting eleven and he was so grateful that he scored two goals. His first goal was scored after 29 minutes of play time.
- City crushed Bayern with a 6-0 win and it was Celina who closed the deal in the 88th minute with the final goal, his second goal that game.
- The last group stage game against Roma almost ended with a 0-0 draw but Celina’s goal in the 71st minute gave City a boost and they were able to score another three goals before the final whistle was blown.
While these Albanians and their teams failed to advance:
Ardian Krasniqi (PSG), 1 goal:
PSG finished third in the group which meant they just missed a spot in the knock-out round. Defender Ardian Krasniqi was called up four times and was able to score one goal. He played from start in all of those games and has been noticed by Albania’s U19 who decided to call him up for the friendly game against Italy next week.
- Krasniqi’s only goal was scored when Apoel visited the Frenchmen. PSG crushed the guests with a 6-0 win and Krasniqi scored a free kick goal right before halftime which gave them a 2-0 lead.
Adonis Ajeti (Basel):
Alongside his twin brother Albian 17-year old Adonis played in Basel’s jersey but unfortunately the party ended early for Basel since they finished third in the group stage. Ajeti played from start in all six games for Basel, he participated in the first edition of UEFA’s Youth League last year as well.
Albian Ajeti (Basel), 4 goals:
Qazim Laci and Bersant Celina weren’t the only Albanians to score four goals during the tournament, even Albian Ajeti added four goals to his score sheet. The 17 year old scored his first goal for Basel’s senior team in Switzerland’s Super League in May so of course Basel called him up to play in in another edition of UEFA’s Youth League. Just like his brother he was on Basel’s XI in every single game.
- The first goal he scored was against Liverpool. Basel were down by 1-2 when Ajeti scored the equalizer and at the very end his fellow team mate scored the final 3-2 goal.
- Ludugorets suffered a 0-5 loss when Basel came to visit, Ajeti’s team mate Arxhend Cani scored the first goal and Ajeti scored the 2-0 goal after 19 minutes.
- Right before halftime during the 5-0 win against Ludugorets Ajeti added his third goal.
- It was a boring first half when it was Ludugorets time to visit but after the break Basel scored six goals. Ajeti started this goal fiesta with his goal in the 51st minute that was actually assisted by Cani. Ajeti himself also assisted to one of the goals.
Arxhend Cani (Basel), 2 goals:
This 17 year old midfielder scored two goals plus he noted another five assists to his resume which meant that he made the most assist during the group stage, a title that he had to share with PSG’s Yakou Meïté. Cani was one of Basel’s most important player which allowed him to play from start in every game Basel played.
- It was Arxhend Cani who started the five goal parade against Ludugorets during the third group stage game. It took him 13 minutes to give Basel a 1-0 lead and they won 5-0.
- Scoring against a team like Real Madrid is something very few can brag about, Arxhend Cani is one of them. He only needed eight minutes to slip by Real Madrid’s defense and give Basel a 1-0 lead. Basel eventually won 3-2.
Leart Iberdemaj (Basel):
Leart Iberdemaj made his bench debut in Youth League this year but did not get any play time. He was called up to two games and was benched in both. He was able to cheer on his team from the bench when Basel beat Liverpool (3-2) and Ludugorets (5-0).
Lumturim Selmani (Basel):
Alongside Leart Iberdemaj 18 year old Leart Iberdemaj also got to cheer on his team during the 5-0 win against Ludugorets. That was the only time Selmani was called up and he remained on the bench during the entire game. Selmani participated in Youth League last year where he actually did get play time.
Granit Stagova, (Malmö FF):
Malmö FF’s success opened up for Granit Stagova but it was a short lived trip as they finished at the bottom in their group with only one collected point. Stagova was on MFF’s starting eleven five out of six times and was only benched once when they visited Atletico Madrid.
The one’s that did not participate:
We do have several talents that did not participate this time even though they were able to, some of them were for example Schalke’s duo. The Germans are through but left out both Donis Avdijaj and Albania’s U19 player Esad Morina. Roma are also through without Irlian Ceka and Emanuele Ndoj. Atletico Madrid won their group but did not call up Albania’s U19 player Keidi Bare. Basel have so many Albanians that I’ve lost count, Ylber Mejdi and Alban Selmanaj were both left out but unfortunately they will have to try their luck next year since Basel did not make it through.