Footskills FC (Australia), Escola Zico 10 (Brazil), and Beijing Sangao FC (China) were crowned champions of the U18, U15, and U12 age groups, respectively, in the 2012 Great Wall Cup International Youth Football Tournament. In its third year of operation the five-day tournament, ending Friday July 27, at the 26 Degree Sports Center, Beijing, hosted 22 teams from seven countries who celebrated the unique international experience. Naturally, your Grassroots correspondent was on the scene to capture the event.
Beijing Football Association and China Sports Tour, who organize the event, commented on this year’s success, saying, “Since 2010 the Great Wall Cup has grown from 14 to 22 teams, and increased the number of international teams from four to 14. It’s great for the tournaments, which has a goal to become the largest international youth tournament in Asia within the next 5-10 years.” Many of this year’s participants will leave satisfied and make plans for the 2013 tournament.
For Brazilians Escola Zico 10 (namesake from Brazilian football legend and school founder Zico) the experience in Beijing and China eclipses any trophy ware received at the tournament. Zico Soccer School operates as an NGO in the slums of favelas of Rio de Janeiro and six other Brazilian cities, maintaining its goal to develop children of underprivileged neighborhoods into men of good will. Football remains secondary for the boys of Escola Zico, including their time in China. For some the trip marked their first time on an airplane. For others the experience included their first time eating McDonalds. So while crowned U15 champions in the tournament the real victory came off the field and even after matches. Opponents and other participating teams in the tournament quickly became fond of the Brazilians who were eager to strike up friendly conversation (despite not being able to speak Chinese or English) and exchange playing shirts with whomever was willing. Escola Zico’s opponents Grande FC (Saitama, Japan), Yali Middle School (Hunan), Beijing 47 Middle School, Beijing Bayi Middle School, and Sangao FC.
Elsewhere the U18 bracket was a more heated affair that saw an all-Australian final between Melbourne side Kickskills FC and Sydney’s Bowen FC. The latter opened the scoring with an early finish, but as the match went on Kickskills grew in confidence. With a 2-1 lead at half Kickskills grabbed another two goals for a deserved 4-1 victory. Bowen, who has been participating in the tournament since the 2010 inception, enjoyed their furthest progress in the tournament. Russian Selengo FC, and Japanese teams Tsu Technical High School Football Club & Tokai University Kofu, were the other international sides in the U18 bracket alongside Chinese clubs Guangxi FA, Yali Middle School, and Tianluxinkong High School.
The U12 age group hosted the most travelled participants, Morogoro International School from the Uluguru Mountains of Tanzania. The Tanzanians finished fourth in a competitive group with Beijing Guoan (2nd), Beijing Sangao (1st) Meanwhile Taiwanese side Fengli Primary School were joined by Foshan FA and Beijing Yueyu FC. The U12s played a seven-a-side competition and for most teams from outside Beijing it was their first non-local provincial tournament.
Other highlights of the tournament experience included a day of sightseeing around Beijing, and, of course, the Great Wall. On Wednesday evening the youth enjoyed participating in traditional cultural activities such as Chinese calligraphy and Kongfu. The cherry on top for the youngters was after the tournament final they headed to watch friendly match of Manchester City and Arsenal FC at the Beijing Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium.
This year the tournament was hosted at th 26 degree sports center for the first time, and will be at the complex for the next five years. Furthermore the inclusion of Tournament Abroad to arrange nine international referees was another milestone of the tournament in 2012. As a tournament that celebrates participation and cultural exchange, hopefully there will be inspiration of more grassroots football in China. Tournament Organizer Shine Liu stated, “Hopefully other FA’s in China can use this tournament as as model to set up international grassroots playing opportunity for local players.” Time will tell when local football associations in China start putting plan into action for the school football project.
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