There are thousands of kilometers between New York City and Harmarsdale in rural KwaZulu-Natal, and a million miles between the lives and circumstances of the 12 boys from Mophela Primary School who will be travelling to the Big Apple next month to play in the world finals of the Danone Nations Cup soccer tournament.
It begins with the team selection. Three of the players who were in the team that won the South African title won’t be making the trip because of reasons and commitments associated with their cultural and family traditions.
So, striker, Sithembiso Ngcongo, goal keeper, Siyathanda Ndlovu and right wing Nhakanipho Ndlovu won’t be going and there will be three new players on the trip.
For all of them it’s going to be an awfully big adventure. Like last year’s champions, Benny’s Sports Development and Academy, they are based in a rural area and any kind of travel is a daunting prospect for the children.
Cyril Ntsele, the school’s principal says they will have to prepare them mentally to accept the change of culture, the different languages and the sheer size of New York and the USA.
“The plane flight will be new to all of them, but we know what to expect, but what they will struggle to fully understand is the enormity of New York. We are showing them videos of New York and the history of the USA to get them better prepared,” said Ntsele.
Things have changed at the school since they won the Danone Nations Cup national title. “The local municipality has come in and they are very supportive of the boys and trying to help them prepare better,” Ntsele says.
“But what we need the most is a proper football field. There is no suitable facility in the area, so we have to travel to train on a field that will be comparable to the excellent facilities that we are going to encounter at the world finals,” explains Ntsele. “The ball will move faster and bounce higher there, meaning the game will be quicker so we need to get to a training facility with similar fields to get in a bit of practice,”
Ntsele has confidence in the team, however. “The three players we have brought in are as good as those they are replacing and I’m sure the boys will quickly adapt to whatever conditions they experience.”
There will be teams from 32 nations competing at the world finals and the last of the other 31 nations around the world are currently finishing their qualification processes.
The participant will soon know which countries will be in their pool and the tournament will take place from the 22nd to 24th September.