Shanghai Stadium, Wednesday July 25th– Universidad de Catolica are 2012 Manchester United Premier Cup champions after a 2-1 victory over Gamba Osaka and an outstanding week of U15 football that hosted 20 of the best youth teams and players in the world.
The final match of a tournament which has involved over 8,000 teams from 40 countries reached its’ conclusion Wednesday evening in a curtain raiser to the Shanghai Shenhua –v- Manchester United match.
Universidad Catolica’s 19,000Km journey from Santiago to Shanghai was one of the furthest of the 20 qualified teams, but it was surely worth the trip for the would-be champions. Gamba Osaka, who defeated tournament favorites Santos FC and golden boot winner Sampaio 1-0 in the semi final, took an early lead over Catolica and looked dominant for much of the final match. However, the last ten minutes proved decisive as Catolica capitalized twice late on to be crowned U15 MUPC world champions.
After the victory Catolica coach Miguel Avilles stated, “This has been a really big experience in [the players] lives. Playing teams from all around the world is a joy, a dream come true for them. It has been a learning experience for the coaching staff too – hearing about different ways of doing things from some of the best youth development staff around…We have all learned so much and will remember this moment- and this whole tournament – for a very long time.”
For some of the players it will be the biggest match of the their football careers., For others it is just the beginning. As U15 ‘elites’ many of the youngsters will be looking to make the transition from grassroots to professional in the next three years. They’ll be inspired by the long list of former MUPC graduates who have continued on to football greatness. In 20 years of competition the tournament has enjoyed the likes of Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid), Robinho (Santos FC), Theo Walcott (Southamptom), Alexis Sanchez (Colocolo), Iniesta (Barcelona FC), just to name a few.
For Nike, who has been organizing the tournament since 1993, there are some noticeable signs in the ‘global shift’ of youth football. Craig Cheek, VP of Nike Greater China, said, “The Asian teams are harder to beat. Europeans and South Americans no longer expect victories over Asian teams. Even Australia and the US are not making so much progress.” Testament to this is Gamba Osaka’s 2nd place finish and inspirational play throughout the tournament. Furthermore FC Pohang Steelers of Korea and Bangkok Christian College of Thailand finished 8th and 10th respectively. Bangkok CC’s Korayok was even named tournament MVP. Chinese sides Hubei and Shanghai (both represented respecitive city FA’s) were 12th and 17th.
This was the first time mainland China hosted the tournament (2005 in Hong Kong) and the grassroots football milestone on Chinese soil shows how Nike and the CFA aim to tap into the massive football potential in the middle kingdom. Tournament organizers stated their appreciation and satisfaction with the host facilities (Shenhua FC training grounds) and the hospitality shown by staff and local Shanghainese during their time in China.
One can only speculate if the next Messi, Iniesta, or Drogba was playing in this tournament. And greater speculation is to when a Chinese team will reach the final match or finish in the top half of the table.
1 Universidad Catolica (Chile)
3 Santos (Brazil)
4 Inter (Italy)
5 Boca Juniors (Argentina)
6 Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
7 FC Pachuca (Mexico)
8 FC Pohang Steelers (Korea)
9 Bursaspor SK (Turkey)
10 Bangkok CC (Thailand)
11Athletic Club (Spain)
12 Shanghai FA (China)
13 Celtic FC (Scotland)
14Ajax Cape Town (South Africa)
15 Esperance (Tunisia)
16VfL Bochum (Germany)
17 Hubei FA (China)
18 Manchester United (England)
19 Vardar SC (USA)
20 Keilor Park (Australia)
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