The air was thick with anticipation as some of Cape Town’s finest under-17 footballing talents sat waiting to hear who they would be facing off against in the group stages of this year’s Engen under-17 Knockout Challenge, to be held at Vasco Da Gama, in Parow, this weekend.
For defending champions, Ajax Cape Town, and hosts, Vasco Da Gama, it was a case of sitting back and watching the selection unfold, their positions in the pool stages determined before the draw, held at the River Club, last week.
Sitting in Pool B and A, respectively, Ajax and Vasco will be hoping to make the most of their pool games to secure a spot in the knockout stages.
It won’t, however, be as easy for the defending champs as they may have anticipated, being drawn in what turned out, arguably, to be the group of death, with top contenders Hellenic FC, Fish Hoek AFC and Grassy Park United being drawn alongside the Urban Warriors.
Hellenic and Fish Hoek have been particularly impressive leading up to the tournament and will be throwing their names in the hat for one of the teams that could cause some trouble for the champions.
As it stands, the group stages will look as follows. In Pool A, hosts Vasco Da Gama will face off against Jordan Callies, Atlantic Nacional and Milano United. Pool B features Ajax, Hellenic, Fish Hoek and Grassy Park United. Pool C sees Greenwood Athletic, Maties, Ikapa Sporting and Greenlovers FC vying for honours and Pool D includes Southampton FC, YSD Macassar, Avendale Athletico and Old Mutual.
The competition runs from Friday July 15 and will culminate in the finals on Sunday July 17. Tournament director Phillip Ribeiro hopes the local organising committee will have ironed out any kinks they experienced last year when they host these young talents this weekend.
“Vasco Da Gama is very happy and excited to be hosting the tournament for a second year. Tournaments such as these are key to improving the standard of junior football across the board ,and we feel that we have learnt a lot from last year’s event and hope that clubs will enjoy themselves this weekend.
“We wish the teams well and encourage the players to take this opportunity to get out there and be seen by scouts, and hopefully this will be the start of many professional careers,” he said.
As a 2016 Engen Knockout Challenge ambassador, former Bafana Bafana defender, Nasief Morris, who started his career with Cape-based side Santos FC and now plies his trade at Milano United, was on hand to further the case of players getting a shot at the so-called big time.
“It’s really at this stage where players step into the professional set-ups and where they are able to set their standards and the goals they hope to achieve for themselves.
“If I look at my own situation, I was playing professional football from the age of 16, when Santos were in the PSL. I always tell the young kids that dreams do come true. I remember telling my mom that I was going to make a lot of money and give her everything her heart desires. I believe setting these goals for yourself is an important part of achieving a sense of satisfaction and pride.
“Having done these things myself, I feel it is important to give back to the younger generation of footballers coming through the ranks, and I believe they can achieve even more than what I have done if they set their minds to it,” said Morris.
With over 200 teams and more than 4 000 players competing in the Knockout Challenge regional tournaments, there is no doubt that future stars will emerge from these teams.
There is also the possibility that the tournament might make an international bid to see other African regions brought into the fold, which could see it grow exponentially. For now though, each team has their eye on bringing home the silverware this weekend as the first step on that journey.