Disappointed though they were, beaten semi-finalists AS Roma and RSC Anderlecht still found words of acclaim for the competition, the former's coach saying it is "a fantastic experience".
Article top media content
The players participating in the UEFA Youth League are on a learning curve which can be steep at times and painful at others. However, the general feeling after Friday's semi-finals is that it is ultimately rewarding, win or lose.
When RSC Anderlecht led FC Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 with under 15 minutes of their tie remaining, and with both sides showing initial signs of fatigue, it seemed the Belgians were set to become the first of the 2015 finalists. Shakhtar substitutes Viktor Kovalenko and Denys Arendaruk provided much-needed impetus, freshness and verve to alter the destiny of the game, and perhaps this season's competition.
A 3-1 loss was a heart-breaking way for Anderlecht's challenge to end, but according to their coach Mohamed Ouahbi it should be regarded as anything but. "The players are disappointed – too disappointed perhaps," he told UEFA.com. "I had a word with them after the game because I felt they were beating themselves up too much, but that's normal – they are competitors and they really wanted to play in the final and they have gone such a long way to get here."
That path, which began back in September, may have concluded on Friday for Anderlecht and AS Roma, but for their players it could be just the beginning. The UEFA Youth League is only set to grow and it provided those involved in Nyon with some memorable moments, both at the Colovray Sports Centre and on the way there.
"This is my 11th season in a sporting capacity at Anderlecht and I've been lucky to be involved in so many competitions at all age levels, but this is really enormous," continued Ouahbi. "It has provided us with so much emotion. We played in front of 13,000 people against Barcelona, against Porto. We're disappointed, but we're nevertheless so proud of what we have achieved."
So too was Roma coach Alberto De Rossi, whose side suffered the same fate – falling one hurdle short of the final – but felt some similarly strong emotions along the way. "The Youth League can help you grow," said De Rossi. "It's a fantastic experience and let's say it brings us [on] even further. We're really satisfied with how far we've come and we've just got to credit a side who beat us deservedly."
On the front foot from the off, Chelsea FC hammered away at the Roma door before, finally, finding a way through early in the second half. Their resistance broken, Roma capitulated as the west Londoners delivered a harsh lesson which was nonetheless well-received. The UEFA Youth League is an education after all.
"This certainly gives us a lot, being able to measure ourselves against other players of our age, from different nations, learning different football cultures," said Roma defender Arturo Calabresi. "We're working to get to the top in Europe and getting this far is something we and the whole club have got to be proud of."
Pride, not pain. If Friday's events in Nyon taught anything, it was that the UEFA Youth League is putting some of Europe's top young players on the right path, emotionally as well as technically. There were no real losers, just those who did not make the final but benefitted in other areas and ways.