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      Palace's Premier League International Cup triumph: How they did it


      Crystal Palace Under-21s emerged triumphant against Jong PSV in the final of the Premier League International Cup on Wednesday night – becoming just the second English Academy to claim the European trophy.

      The scenes of jubilation which greeted the full-time whistle at Selhurst Park were befitting of the team's incredible journey to that point, which started just shy of a year ago – 23rd May, 2023 – at the same ground.

      This is the story of how they did it...

      Introducing the Premier League International Cup

      The Premier League International Cup pits 12 Category 1 sides from England against 12 of the best European sides in three separate groups of eight.

      In each group, four English sides were drawn against four European sides. The English sides played each European side once, and did not play one another, with all ties contested in England.

      The top two teams from each group, along with two of the best third-place sides, progressed to the quarter-finals.

      Palace this season entered the tournament for the second time in their history, having finished runners-up last season to Jong PSV.

      The Young Eagles enjoyed a fine run to the final in their first-ever entry into the competition, memorably putting seven goals past Paris Saint-Germain in the group stages; overcoming Liverpool on Merseyside; and defeating Valencia Mestalla in a nerve-racking penalty shootout

      But despite largely having the better of the play in normal time, Palace's dreams last season fell at the final hurdle in the additional 30 minutes against Jong PSV, the youth side of Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven, who play in the second-tier and whose greater experience eventually told.

      PL International Cup Final Highlights: Palace 1-3 PSV

      Entering the tournament in the group stages again this season, Palace were drawn in Group C to face Athletic Club, Benfica, Feyenoord and Monaco.

      Group stage: Athletic Club

      1-1 draw

      VBS Community Stadium, Sutton; Wednesday, 27th September 2023

      The first opponents for Powell’s side, back in September, were Athletic Club B. The Spanish giants are famed for their policy of only utilising players born, or trained in, the Basque Country -  an autonomous region in the north of Spain and southwestern France.

      This policy extends to the youth sides and has seen the club produce the likes of Kepa Arrizabalaga, Aymeric Laporte and Iñaki Williams.

      Athletic Club B play in the Segunda Federación Group II, the fourth tier of Spanish football. They were recently relegated from the Primera Federación - Group II last season and are coached by former player Carlos Gurpegui. He came through the ranks at Basconia, an affiliate club which feeds directly into Athletic Club B.

      They had previously competed in every iteration of the Premier League International Cup, apart from last season, though they have never made it beyond the quarter-finals.

      In their opening clash with the Basque giants, Palace drew 1-1 - with Seán Grehan's header in the first-half being cancelled out by Aimar Duñabeitia.

      A point gave the Eagles a basis to work on – their campaign was off to a strong start.

      International Cup Highlights: Crystal Palace 1-1 Athletic Club

      Group stage: AS Monaco

      3-1 win

      VBS Community Stadium, Sutton; Tuesday, 24th October 2023

      Hailing from one of the biggest and most successful clubs in French football, Palace faced a stern test against one of the most reputable Academies in France back in October.

      Monaco's academy has produced global football superstars such as Kylian Mbappé, Thierry Henry, Lillian Thuram, Emmanuel Petit, and David Trezeguet.

      AS Monaco Groupe Elite, as they are known, previously competed in the Championnat National 2 - the fourth tier of the French football pyramid. They were relegated at the end of 2021/22 and mostly play friendlies against various French and European sides.

      Monaco have been regulars in the Premier League International Cup since 2019/20 and also recorded a quarter-final finish in 2020.

      Palace took on a strong Monaco side as they welcomed them to the VBS Community Stadium, but they were no match for new summer signing Matheus França as he scored the opening goal in his first-ever game in red and blue.

      A stunning strike from Malcolm Ebiowei and a late breakaway goal from Roshaun Mathurin saw the Eagles emerge 3-1 winners to move top of their group.

      U21 Match Highlights: Crystal Palace 3-1 AS Monaco

      Group stage: SL Benfica

      2-1 win

      VBS Community Stadium, Sutton; Wednesday, 6th December 2023

      The most decorated club in Portuguese football, also known as ‘The Eagles', Benfica are not only one of the big three clubs in Portugal, but also one of the top 10 clubs in UEFA’s official rankings, participating in 43 seasons of European football, second only to Real Madrid.

      Benfica’s Academy have produced a number of exceptional players throughout the years including the likes of Rui Costa, Ruében Dias and Nené.

      They currently compete in the Liga Portugal 2, the second tier of Portuguese football. Last season, they registered a 15th-place finish.

      The Portuguese Eagles have competed in all but one iteration of the Premier League International Cup, reaching the quarter-final on two occasions.

      In their final home game of 2023, Palace hosted Benfica and managed to come away with all three points.

      An early Mathurin goal followed by a second-half strike from Ademola Ola-Adebomi saw the south London Eagles come up trumps against the Portuguese Eagles to top the group once more.

      International Cup Highlights: Crystal Palace 2-1 SL Benfica

      Group stage: Feyenoord

      1-1 draw

      Crystal Palace Academy; Wednesday, 17th January 2024

      Palace’s final opponents in the group were Feyenoord. The Dutch senior side won the Eredivisie last season and have historically enjoyed a strong presence of Academy graduates in their squad.

      Some of the graduates from Feyenoord’s Academy over the years include Nathan Aké, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Robin van Persie and Georginio Wijnaldum.

      They currently compete in the Divisie 1 U21, the top division of youth football in the Netherlands.

      The Dutch outfit have competed in four out of the seven iterations of the Premier League International Cup, though they have never progressed beyond the group stage.

      With two wins and a draw, Palace only needed a point against Feyenoord to progress to the quarter-finals – and, after a battling display, they achieved just that.

      An upset looked like it was on the cards as the Dutch outfit took the lead early on, though Luke Plange quickly equalised five minutes later.

      The match finished as a 1-1 draw, and that was enough to see the south Londoners through to the quarter-final.

      International Cup Highlights: Palace 1-1 Feyenoord

      Quarter-finals: Wolverhampton Wanderers

      3-0 win

      VBS Community Stadium, Sutton; Monday, 26th February 2024

      After progressing through the group stage, Palace faced domestic opponents Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League International Cup quarter-final.

      Wolves had previously topped their group going into this game, with wins against PSV, Sparta Prague and Nice. They also recorded a draw against Hertha Berlin.

      Palace duly welcomed the West Midlands outfit to the VBS Community Stadium, and managed to put three past them with no reply.

      A brace for Danny Imray, which were two brilliantly taken goals, along with a fine finish from Mathurin saw Darren Powell's side ease into the semi-finals with their fourth win in their last five games across all competitions at the time.

      International Cup Highlights: Crystal Palace 3-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers

      Semi-finals: Everton

      4-2 win

      VBS Community Stadium, Sutton; Monday, 26th February 2024

      The semi-finals saw Palace paired with Merseyside outfit Everton at Selhurst Park – and something of a cup thriller ensued.

      Fine finishes from Franco Umeh, Trialist, Imray and Justin Devenny saw our U21s soar past the Toffees 4-2 – but they were made to work for it.

      A vociferous home crowd of just shy of 800 at Selhurst roared on the boys in red and blue, with Palace going into a commanding position with Umeh and Trialist goals either side of half-time from cut-backs – only for Jenson Metcalfe's low cross to evade everyone and go straight in.

      There was plenty of space for Palace to utilise on the counter-attack as Everton poured bodies forwards in search of an equaliser, and Imray did just that with a tidy near-post finish.

      But with five minutes remaining, there was a grandstand finish as Metcalfe won and scored a penalty.

      Just as the attacks kept on coming, in the third minute of injury time, Palace intercepted the ball on the edge of the box, Mathurin played a diagonal ball forwards, Trialist – two-on-one – headed down for Devenny on the edge of the area – and the midfielder dispatched his effort with aplomb.

      Counter-attacking football at its best – the game, the tie, the occasion in the Premier League International Cup, was once again Crystal Palace's.

      Two final appearances in two seasons in the competition; Palace were up for a shot at revenge.

      Premier League International Cup Highlights: Crystal Palace 4-2 Everton

      Final: Jong PSV

      1-0 win

      Selhurst Park; Wednesday, 15th May 2024

      Heading into this year's final, much like last season, PSV had enjoyed a strong showing in the tournament.

      The Dutch team had won three of their four group-stage games, which included 7-0 thrashing of Leeds United, before coming from behind at Stamford Bridge to beat Chelsea 2-1 in the quarter-finals.

      It was a similar story for the PSV in the semi-final, as they were 2-0 down at half-time against West Ham United, but somehow fought back to win 3-2 in stoppage time.

      But this time, the night belonged to Crystal Palace.

      A superb counter-attacking display, capped by Franco Umeh’s deflected effort midway through the second-half, saw the Eagles take Jong PSV’s Premier League International Cup crown with a 1-0 win at Selhurst Park.

      Premier League International Cup Final Highlights: Crystal Palace 1-0 PSV Eindhoven

      They were backed by another strong attendance – with over 2,000 tickets sold ahead of kick-off – on a glorious early summer’s eve in SE25.

      The Eagles admittedly rode their luck at times throughout the game, with goalkeeper and captain Joe Whitworth an outstanding performer between the posts – with two first-half saves in particular of the highest calibre.

      But that display, coupled with Franco Umeh’s deflected second-half strike, and an incredible show of resilience throughout the young Palace team was enough, on this occasion, to keep the trophy in south London.

      “It’s massive, massive [for the club] – and for the players as well,” head coach Powell told Palace TV. “I say for the players, but coming here last year and losing the final… we couldn't do it again. We couldn't do it again, and that was the mantra.

      "It wasn't our best performance, but we were up against a really good side. They were really good side last year, and again, they've just got very good players. And then we rode our luck, yes, but that's football. That's football.

      “I said before the game: it's about creating memories. As they go on in their life, life's all about memories, right? And wherever they go in the game, you shouldn't forget these memories.

      “This [the Palace Academy] is a school of football. You go into the professional game, and you look back - it's still part of you. That's why I said ‘create memories. I know it was a bad memory last year, but let's create a good memory and carry that for the rest of your days.’”

      This night was theirs – forever.