Full back Josiah Price flying into a a tackle against Tubingen.World Elite University Football Tournament

Earlier this summer, the Cambridge University Association Football Club flew out to Wuhan, China, to participate in the third annual World Elite University Football Tournament. As the squad travelled on the day of England’s cruel World Cup exit at the hands of Croatia, they knew that they represented the nation’s last chance to bring football home.

Indeed, much like England’s World Cup heroes, the Cambridge squad was young and relatively inexperienced, with eight freshers making up a small squad of only fifteen players. This youthful squad had played very little together back home, but ultimately they exceeded all expectations by putting in some mature performances to reach the final for the first time, having suffered consecutive semi-final defeats in the previous two years.

Cambridge were drawn in Group A alongside the hosts, Huazhong University, as well as the University of Southern California. A trip to watch these two teams play out a tight contest in searing 35-degree heat and 90% humidity reminded the players of the high level of football on show at the tournament and assured them they would have to be at their best to succeed.

Goalkeeper John Harrison called into action against Melbourne.World Elite University Football Tournament

Cambridge’s opener put them up against the University of Southern California, who were much improved from their previous two outings at the tournament. However, they proved to be no match for the Light Blues, who put in a dominant performance to ensure a comfortable 3-0 victory. Fresher Nick Gallagher opened the scoring early on after a great team move before striker Kosi Nwuba headed in from close range to put Cambridge 2-0 up at half time. In the second half, veteran striker Max Burley ensured a winning start by latching on to a through ball to round the goalkeeper and score.

The Cambridge players enjoyed a single day’s rest before their next game against Huazhong University, whose high pressing game and intricate passing represented a much sterner test. This short rest period certainly influenced Cambridge’s performance, as they started sluggishly and found themselves 2-0 down early in the second half. Although the Blues rallied well and pulled a goal back after excellent work from Joe Young on the left flank, the game finished 2-1 to the hosts.

They were rewarded for their bright start after Kosi Nwuba ran powerfully and scored past the Melbourne defence.

This defeat set up a quarter final match with the University of Melbourne. There were no signs of the fatigue which had hampered Cambridge in their second game and they were rewarded for their bright start as Kosi Nwuba ran powerfully and scored passed the Melbourne defence.

Melbourne pulled level through a penalty kick but Cambridge remained dominant.  The Blues restored their lead on the stroke of half time after the excellent Nick Gallagher calmly slotted home following good work by winger Luke Sefton. Midfielder Callum Thomson added another to Cambridge’s lead, but a late Melbourne headed goal set up a nervy final 5 minutes for the Light Blues. However the Cambridge defence, marshalled by Oscar Melbourne in his first game as captain, ensured a well-deserved semi-final place.

Seoul University were Cambridge’s opponents in the semi, and the Light Blues got off to the perfect start after Ollie Lerway converted Sefton’s low cross from close range. Striker Kosi Nwuba, an exciting prospect for CUAFC next year, scored his third goal of the tournament shortly after to assert Cambridge’s dominance.

Cambridge pictured with their runners-up medals after the final.World Elite University Football Tournament

Seoul became increasingly dangerous but the contest was effectively ended when their goalkeeper was sent off with 12 minutes remaining. Although the resulting penalty was missed, two late goals from centre-backs Oscar Melbourne and Alex Bull allowed Cambridge to see out the game comfortably in their most impressive performance of the tournament.

A final clash against the defending champions Universität Tübingen was Cambridge’s reward for their semi-final triumph.   The Blues were very much the underdogs especially because a number of their opponents played semi-professional football back in Germany.  A broken nose for midfielder Joe Young in the semi-final made the task ahead even harder as Cambridge went into the game with just 12 outfield players.


Mountain View

Debating the digital ref

The Cambridge team worked tirelessly throughout the final, but in the end they were ultimately outclassed, as the German team ran out comfortable 5-0 winners and were deservedly crowned champions.

Despite the defeat in the final, the Cambridge players returned to England feeling proud of their performances and their individual and collective improvement during the tournament. As the Blues look to retain their Midlands 1A title in the BUCS competition, the high quality performances and levels of maturity shown by the younger players mean that the club is in for an exciting year ahead!