A group of local soccer players are preparing for what will likely be a once-in-a-life-time experience.
Eighteen boys aged 13 to 14 years representing Island Fire Football Association, a local soccer academy, will be among 1696 teams representing 78 nations playing the 2019 edition of the Gothia Cup, the world’s largest and international youth soccer tournament held in Gothenberg, Sweden.
The team will be one of five Canadian teams, when they kick off their games on Monday, July 15 against against a local Swedish team. They will also play on Tuesday against a team from Spain before wrapping up group play against another Swedish team on Wednesday.
But if the prospect of playing the world’s game against foreign teams on foreign soil is not enough to whet their appetite, the players will have the honour of carrying Canada’s flag during the opening ceremonies to be held in the evening hours of July 15 in Gothenberg’s Ullevi Stadium.
“It’s going to be a really cool experience,” said Manuel Achadinha, one of the team’s coaches. “About 55,000 people are going to be at the opening ceremonies in the stadium, so it is going to be neat.”
Achadinha will have an idea of what to expect, as he had accompanied what was then called Alma Libre Fútbol Club to Sweden in 2017. That team — now two years older — will also be on the road later this year, playing in the English International Super Cup in Manchester, England and the Welsh International Super Cup in Cardiff, Wales later this summer, with Achadinha joining them
So what the expectations heading into this year’s version of the Gothia Cup? “Most people, when you say you are from Canada, they think hockey, they don’t think soccer,” he said. “The expectation really is to give the kids a unique experience,” he said. “They have worked really hard. Two years ago, we took a team all the way to the semi-final [in the consolation bracket] of our age group.”
In doing so, they showed some resilience. They overcame travel issues and won two games on penalty kicks in perhaps also changing perceptions about Canadian soccer.
To help them prepare for what Achadinha calls “a pretty high tempo and intense tournament,” the team will spend some time in London to acclimatize themselves after having left Victoria on Tuesday. This process will include some local sightseeing and an exhibition game before flying over to Sweden on July 13. They will be heading back to Canada on July 21-22.
Depending on how things, the team could play a maximum of 10 games.
“So last time we went two years ago, we played nine games,” said Achadinha. “The kids were pretty exhausted. [But] it is an amazing tournament and a great experience for the kids.”
Many on the team have been playing together since they were four or five years old, he said. “So they know each other very well. They will have to bunk together [and] they will be dependent on themselves. So it will be a lot of fun.”