Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Benfica – Salzburg's route to UEFA Youth League glory was arguably the toughest in four seasons of the competition's history.
Article top media content
A new name was added to the UEFA Youth League's short roll of honour as Salzburg emerged triumphant in the traditional finals weekend setting of Colovray Stadium.
The Austrian side joined two-time champions Chelsea and 2014 victors Barcelona as winners of the Lennart Johansson Trophy. They did it the hard way too, eliminating several high-profile teams en route to Nyon – namely Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Atlético Madrid – having eased past Vardar and Kairat Almaty in the Domestic Champions path.
The calibre of opposition Salzburg overcame in Switzerland was just as impressive. Trailing 1-0 to Barcelona until just after the hour, Marco Rose's side responded with two unanswered goals, substitute Daka Patson scoring the second of them on his competition debut. Cue a flurry of back-flips by a player who fired Zambia to victory at the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations the previous month.
The final narrative was strikingly similar, only this time Salzburg were a goal down against Benfica until the 72nd minute, when Patson headed in the equaliser. His fellow substitute Alexander Schmidt, making his first appearance since November because of injury, completed the turnaround.
Success amounted to a belated present for Salzburg captain Sandro Ingolitsch, who turned 20 six days before the final. It also meant Rose's charges finished the UEFA Youth League season nine matches unbeaten, having managed a competition best 29 goals.
Hannes Wolf, who provided three assists and a goal in Nyon, and Mergim Berisha each scored seven during Salzburg's campaign. The forwards were two of three players in Rose's finals squad with first-team experience. The other, Amadou Haidara, struck on his senior debut in an Austrian Cup tie less than three weeks before travelling to Nyon.
Benfica defeated Real Madrid 4-2 in the other semi-final, condemning the Whites to their third loss at that stage following last-four reverses in 2014 and 2016. The Spanish teams headed home disappointed, although Barcelona's Jordi Mboula, on target against Salzburg, at least had the minor consolation of finishing as the campaign's eight-goal leading scorer along with Ajax's Kaj Sierhuis.
Overall, 40 countries, up three from last season, were represented in the 2016/17 edition. For the first time there were entrants from FYR Macedonia, the Republic of Ireland and Montenegro.
The competition was partly designed to bridge the gap between youth and senior teams and for 16 players this season that step was made as they also featured in the UEFA Champions League. Among that number was Fedor Chalov from quarter-finalists CSKA Moskva, Benfica's final goalscorer José Gomes and Borussia Dortmund defender Felix Passlack.
Passlack only made his UEFA Youth League debut in September against Legia Warszawa but by the time of the reverse fixture two months later was part of Thomas Tuchel's first-team plans and became the youngest German to score in Europe's premier club competition when BVB ran out 8-4 winners at home to the Polish outfit.