The countdown to the kick-off of the most anticipated developmental football tournament in South Africa, the Durban U19 International Football Tournament, has officially begun. The teams to participate in the International Tournament were announced & paired during the launch of the 2017 edition that took place today, at Mega City Mall in Umlazi, South of Durban.
The fourth edition of the prestigious Durban Under-19 International Football Tournament is set to be staged from 27 July – 5 August 2017, where some of the best young talent from around the globe will descend on the KwaZulu-Natal province with the dream of being crowned champions.
The tournament has already lived up to its motto of ‘Where Stars are Born’, having helped to develop some of the brightest young prospects in world football, such as Bayern Munich’s Portuguese international Renato Sanches, who also won the European Championships with his country in 2016.
Not forgetting South Africa’s own Thabo Cele, who played for the KwaZulu-Natal Academy in the 2015 Durban Under-19 International Football Tournament and has recently signed with Portuguese giants Benfica, setting him on the path to a stellar professional career and is currently in South Korea with the U20 National Team preparing for the 2017 FIFA U20 World Cup.
It is therefore clearly a tournament of stars and it will be exciting to see which new names will emerge from the competition this year, with another incredible line-up of teams in the field.
Aside regulars, the South African Under-19 side, who were losing finalists in 2016, and the KwaZulu-Natal Academy, six other teams have been invited from around the world to take part in the 10-day event.
Brazilian club Flamengo will be making their first appearance and they bring with them a rich history that includes a recent domestic Serie A title in 2009. Some of the greatest players the world has seen have turned out for the club in the past, including Zico, Ronaldinho, Babeto and Romario.
Portuguese giants Benfica return for a second shot at the title after losing out to Brazilian side Santos in the inaugural final in 2014. They are the reigning Portuguese champions and have a special connection to Africa through past players born in Angola and Mozambique, not least of all club legend Eusebio.
Spanish side Deportivo de La Coruña make their debut in Durban and arrive with a proud 111-year history that saw them crowned La Liga champions in the 1999/00 season. Joan Capdevila, Juan Carlos Valerón and Diego Tristán are just some of the top Spanish internationals to have donned the colours of the club. Recently, they beat Barcelona 2-1in a League match.
The famed academy of Ivorian side ASEC Mimosas will also feature this year and it is highly likely that we will be seeing future Ivory Coast internationals on display. The club has brought through great names such as Gervinho, Yaya Touré, Boubacar Barry, Kolo Touré, Didier Zokora, Siaka Tiéné and Aruna Dindane, to name just a few.
Mimosas’s Director General, Benoît YOU, said he is thrilled over the inclusion on his side in this year’s tournament and believes the experience will positively impact his players in a long run.
“We are very happy to participate at the Durban U19 tournament for the first time in 2017. It is very important for our players to play this kind of competitions for their individual development as players. The Durban U19 tournament is also becoming one of the best youth tournaments in the continent and we will do our best to show that ASEC Mimosas is still one of the best club.” added YOU.
The 2014/15 Denmark champions FC Midtjylland will bring some Scandanavian flavour as the newest club in the competition, having only been formed in 1999. They have however become regular competitors in UEFA club competitions and have in the recent past beaten both Manchester clubs, United and City, and have built a reputation in Denmark for unearthing exciting young talent.
South African Premier Soccer League side Maritzburg United, will complete the field of eight teams, making the short journey from their Pietermaritzburg base to Durban. They have enjoyed an excellent season in the domestic arena with the likes of academy product Bandile Shandu displaying excellent talent in the midfield.
The eight sides will be drawn into two pools each containing four clubs, who will play one another on a round-robin basis. The top two sides in each group then advance to the semifinals.
Group A will this year be staged at the King Zwelithini Stadium in Umlazi, while Group B will be played at the Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium in Clermont. The magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium, venue during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, will host the semi-finals, before the decider and third-place play-offs moves to back to King Zwelithini.
Aside from the Santos victory in 2014, English club Arsenal has claimed the last two titles in 2015 and 2016, but this year we are assured of a new winner.
The Mayor of eThekwini Municipality, Her Worship Councilor Zandile Gumede said that the beauty of the project was making the impossible, possible.
“We have no doubt that the 2017 leg of the tournament will continue providing us with a platform to make what seems impossible, possible. When we took this bold and an unprecedented decision to support the project three years ago, our objective was to provide opportunities for KZN based players to showcase their skills on an international platform created by the Tournament, thus opening doors for them to earn a living out of football in future.” said Gumede.
Since inception, the event has been organised by Hoy Park Management and sponsored by, mainly, the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government, the eThekwini Municipality as well as the 2010 FIFA World Cup Legacy Trust.