Mumbai, 26 May, 2023: Wolverhampton Wanderers FC defeated Stellenbosch FC in the penalty shootout to emerge victorious in the Reliance Foundation presents Premier League Next Generation Cup. The summit clash rounded off 1-1 in regulation time with the Wolves notching the first goal in the opening half and Stellenbosch bagging the equaliser in the 46th minute.
Wolves were the more enterprising of the two teams in the first-half. Their backline took initiative in commencing attacking moves with the likes of Oliver Tipton putting in a shift on both ends of the pitch. Roy-Keane Avontuur made some impressive runs from the left flank but they thwarted by the Wolves’ defence.
Stellenbosch’s Ethan Felix took a powerful shot from the right side of the 18-yard box in the 12th minute. However, the Premier League team goalkeeper Joe Young saved the same cleanly. The James Collins-coached side gradually grew into the proceedings as Harvey Griffiths earned a corner for them around the half-hour mark with a fantastic left-footed effort from outside the box.
Midfielder Owen Hesketh stepped up to take the corner and his curling kick was well met and nodded into the back of net by Griffiths to help Wolves garner the first lead in the game. Hesketh played some slick passes to Nathan Fraser and Ty Barnett but Stellenbosch warded them off to continue to remain in the game in the second-half.
The defending champions emerged out of the half-time break with some renewed intensity and plans. They began testing Wolves on the flanks by stretching their backline and sending in crosses aplenty into the box.
Stellenbosch derived the requisite result from this strategy as they began seeing much more of the ball and were successful in limiting the Wolves inside their own half. Amidst one such move, Antonio Van Wyk brought down a precise pass from the right flank and shot it brilliantly into the bottom-left corner to seal the equaliser and infuse further excitement into the game.
Wolves managed to breakthrough via a counter-attack later in the half. Justin Hubner raced down the left flank and sent in a near-perfect cross that striker Nathan Fraser headed wide off the woodwork. However, neither of the two sides could secure the winner and the game proceeded into the penalty shootout. Wolves held their nerves and scored from all five of their spot-kicks. But, Van Wyk’s miss from the first shot held the team from South Africa back from winning their second straight Reliance Foundation presents Premier League Next Generation Cup title.
“I thought it was our hardest game, as we expected it to be. Stellenbosch are such a terrific team!” Wolverhampton Wanderers FC coach James Collins exclaimed after the game.
He added, “My defenders were getting frustrated with me because I told them that they have had an easy tournament and I didn’t expect this game to be easy. They rolled their eyes and said that they had done well. They have done well but tonight was different as the Stellenbosch centre-forward (Van Wyk) was excellent. We knew we had to defend well, which we did.”
“I am so proud of these boys. They have come out here and we have played in this beautiful country for two weeks,” Stellenbosch FC coach Evangelos Vellios said.
“Obviously, it would have been great to have the gold medal around our neck again. But, it is also a great learning experience for these boys. Last year, we won the tournament. This year, we lost in the penalties in the finals. It just keeps us hungry to hopefully come back again one day,” he signed off.
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 (5) (Harvey Griffiths 30’) – 1 (4) (Antonio Van Wyk 46’)
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