MOREthan 25 000 people packed the stands at Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to watch the finals of the world’s biggest international football tournament for 10-12 year olds, the Danone Nations Cup last week.
The final was won by the team from Japan, who beat Paraguay 1-0 in the final on Sunday 16th November.
Teams from 32 countries had played preliminary matches at the Paradise Lake and Golf Resort, in Mogi das Cruzes in the week before and every team played their final position games at the stadium that hosted the recent 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil. The idea of playing in the stadium was to give the kids a better understanding of playing at the highest level of the game.
KwaZulu-Natal’s Siphumelele Primary School was the South African representatives, and although they did not do very well on the field, they enjoyed the experience and learned a tremendous amount. They have returned home with knowledge and experience that will stand them in good stead for the future.
The criteria for selecting which team goes to the tournament is left up to the individual countries, and while most nations sent their national champion club teams, Siphumele, a township school was chosen because they won the South African national Danone Nations Cup title.
The winning team, from Japan, was the under-12 side of a leading club, so those players would have been identified and selected from a large group of hopefuls.
The South African’s had problems with illness and injury as well, and were caught short of the regimented discipline that is required to participate in a tournament if this size. They were always rushed, which did not help their playing performances.
On the positive side, education on healthy eating habits was stressed at the tournament and the players learnt a lot about proper nutrition. They were very adventurous when it came to the food and were prepared to try everything in a strange environment.
They also made friends with the some of the English speaking teams that were there, particularly with the Canadians.
Amos Mitchell, the SA Schools Football Association representative who travelled with the team said he was astounded at the quality of football that other countries played. “They were tactically and technically advanced.
It was an eye-opener and our boys learnt a lot about the game based on just watching the other teams in action.
“It’s evident that if we want to develop players for the future we need to start at a very early age like these countries do, and not leave it to when kids are in their teens.
Brazilian legend Cafu, the Danone Nations Cup ambassador, said he was proud to have been part of a fantastic programme aimed at helping children develop their love for football and grow in respects for themselves and others. “A massive congratulations to Japan for winning,” he said. “The teams all showed tremendous skill and professionalism on the pitch.”