Our Under-19s are aiming to reach the UEFA Youth League finals weekend in Switzerland for the fourth consecutive year of involvement when Dinamo Zagreb visit Cobham for a quarter-final tie this afternoon. Kick-off is 3pm and the game will be screened live on BT Sport.
Joe Edwards’s side finished as runners-up last term and know that, should they emerge victorious against the Croatians, the reward will be a rematch of last year’s final against Barcelona. However, thoughts of revenge and redemption must be placed on hold as Dinamo Zagreb plot to claim another English scalp following their penalty shoot-out win over Liverpool in the last-16.
Goalkeeper Karlo Ziger was drafted into the side for our own knockout victory against Montpellier last month, deputising for the injured Jamie Cumming and starring with a string of impressive saves. The 17-year-old will be hoping to come out on the winning side once again today and believes stepping up to the challenge will be crucial if the Blues are to advance.
‘You always need to be prepared for every game and as a goalkeeper you want to play all the time,’ Ziger tells the official Chelsea website as we reflect on his involvement in the last round. ‘It was unfortunate for Jamie to get injured but that was lucky for me and hopefully I can show everyone my abilities.
‘It was a very windy day, which made it difficult for everyone, but you have to deal with these factors in football. Montpellier showed they are a good team and quite physical as well so it was a good test for us.’
European club football’s premier youth tournament has been a happy hunting ground for our youngsters, who lifted the trophy in 2015 and defended it the following year. While Ziger was not involved in our run to the final last campaign, he has already benefited from exposure to continental challenges.
‘It’s a good competition,’ he continues. ‘The European teams tend to play more direct and play more crosses into the box, which is a different experience because you’re not so used to that as a goalkeeper at Chelsea.
‘I’ve played in a couple of games now and they were great experiences, playing in first team stadiums in the early rounds. Now we are at the knockout stage so there is big pressure on us to perform.’
— Karlo Ziger
Porto and Barcelona have already booked their places at the finals weekend at the end of the month and Edwards’s side now look to join them in a four-way fight to be crowned Under-19 European champions.
‘It’s an exciting week for us,’ adds Ziger. ‘Obviously it’s one game in knockout football so we need to perform because we want to win not just this game but the whole competition.
‘It’s going to be a difficult game for us. Dinamo are a very organised team, they have a good spirit and they will try to spoil the game as much as possible. We need to stay patient because they will play on the counter-attack and try to break on us.
‘In the last round, Liverpool got drawn into some arguments and fights so we know we must be calm and stay cool because that can affect you mentally.’
Chelsea versus Dinamo Zagreb kicks off at 3pm this afternoon (Wednesday), live on BT Sport. There will be updates from Cobham throughout the day on our official @chelseafc Twitter.