Some of the best junior teams in the world will converge on South Africa for the 2015 Future Champions Gauteng International Tournament at the Nike Football Training Centre in Soweto from March 23-28.
Now firmly established as a popular fixture on the global junior football calendar, the event is in its seventh year and will once again give us a glimpse into the future stars of the world game.
Organised by Global Sports International, in partnership with the Gauteng Provincial Government and the City of Johannesburg, the tournament will feature five local sides and seven top teams from around the world.
Making a first appearance out of Brazil is top side Cruzeiro, who has been crowned Serie A Champions in that country for the last two years.
It is likely this side will feature future Brazilian internationals – perhaps even the next Neymar – and they will be among the favourites in a competition that has been won on three occasions by compatriots Clube Atletico Mineiro.
There will also be three top sides coming out of Europe – Italian Serie A club Torino, English Premiership Sunderland AFC and Netherlands outfit ADO Den Haag.
The latter two return for a second year running, while Torino will be making their debut when they compete at the 2015 Future Champions Gauteng International Tournament.
There are also a healthy number of sides from elsewhere on the African continent taking part in 2015.
Competing for the first time from Mozambique will be Ferroviario de Maputo, who are a team with a rich 90-year history and have eight Mozambican Championships to their name.
They will also be joined by K-Stars from Zambia, who are competing for a seventh time, the most of any club in the tournament’s history.
There will also be Oryx FC from Namibia at the tournament that will showcase that country’s rich potential.
These teams will be joined by five sides from Gauteng, four of whom won the right to compete in the International event following the 2015 Future Champions Gauteng Cup played on March 1.
SuperSport United will be making their fourth appearance at the competition, the most of any team from South Africa, and will be joined by Orlando Pirates FC and Jomo Cosmos (both with their third appearances), and University of Pretoria, who are at the even for a second time.
BidVest Wits are the fifth Gauteng side after they beat Mamelodi Sundowns 5-3 on penalties in a play-off fixture following the late withdrawal of Ghanaian side Asante Kotoko.
The 12 teams will be split into four first round groups of three teams, with one of the Gauteng sides in each of those pools, along with two International entrants.
The teams play each other in a round-robin format, with the top sides in each pool advancing to the semi-finals. The remaining eight teams will play-off to determine positions five to 12.
“We are delighted to have such a star-studded field once again for the Future Champions Gauteng tournament and get this opportunity to not only catch a glimpse of future internationals from around the world, but also from our very own Province. All five Gauteng teams competing this year have a rich history of developing players for the local game and that should make this compelling viewing for any South African football fan,” says Ms Tiisetso Motloung, the COO for Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation.
The Gauteng Department of Education Director: School Sports, Mr Cedric Ranchor, says this is a great opportunity for the players from all teams to interact and learn about their different cultures.
“For these young boys to interact with learners from all around the world has a significant educational value and we urge all the teams to come together in the spirit of friendship and comradery. There is much to learn from each other and we look forward to welcoming our guests from around the world and will make sure they enjoy their stay in our Province and learn too what makes South Africa such a special country,” Mr Ranchor said.
Tournament Director, Ray Whelan, added: “The Future Champions Gauteng tournament is now very well established on the football calendar and the standard of football has been very high. We are looking forward to taking that to a new level this year. I must give credit to the Gauteng Province for the way they make the teams feel so welcome, which is why there is such a desire from teams to come back year after year. It is amazing to see how this event has grown since 2009 and we look forward to reaching even greater heights in the future.”
“The Future Champions Gauteng project is thrilled to be back in Soweto again where the event began and we enjoy working with the expertise of SAFA and in particularly the Soweto LFA (Local Football Association) and hope the football fans of Gauteng will come to see top class football with great local interest” concluded Whelan.
The City of Johannesburg has long been a proud partner of the Future Champions Gauteng event and is looking forward to hosting the teams once again.
“We believe we are a world-class city and one that has much to offer our visitors. Football is very much in the fabric of our city with so many top teams situated her and the real passion that our citizens have for the game. We are therefore proud to host such a prestigious junior tournament once again and look forward to welcoming players from around the world,” says Mr Siyanda Mnukwa: COJ Director – Sport and Recreation.
Gauteng Tourism Authority will also play a part in the event as they help entertain the players and expose them to the Province’s rich history.
“One of the great benefits to the players of the Future Champions Gauteng tournament is the fact that we provide them with numerous excursions and opportunities to learn about Gauteng and South Africa outside of football. We don’t believe in leaving them holed up in their hotel rooms, but rather want them to experience all we have to offer as a Province. Certainly the players have shown great appreciation for this in the past,” says Ms Nonnie Kubeka, Gauteng Tourism Authority: General Manager.
“We should give praise to the Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation for the way they have embraced the Future Champions Gauteng concept and afforded these youngsters the platform to showcase their skills. Since 2009 we have seen many players and coaches come through our programme and go on to represent our junior national teams, not least current national Under-20 coach Thabo Senong, who also acts as assistant to Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba” said Soweto Football Association Chairman, Mr Phil Mogodi.
“We must thank tournament director Ray Whelan for giving attention to developing our coaches as well as players, we have many more up-and-coming coaches that will help to improve our football in the coming years.” concluded Mogodi.
Boca Juniors from Argentina were crowned champions of the inaugural competition in 2009, with Chinese side Shandong Luneng victors in 2010, before Atletico Mineiro claimed the next two and triumphed again in 2014. Mexican side Club Tijuana won in 2013.
Also returning once again this year is the Future Players Talent Identification programme that seeks to unearth the bright young stars of tomorrow by assessing thousands of young boys and girls from around the Gauteng Province to see if they have the potential to be future stars with the final of the initiative being held on 28th March, during the International Tournament.