Playing in the footsteps of the pros

Ajax Cape Town goalkeeper Jody February, centre, was among the delegates who greeted the under-13 players ahead of the final.

Football fans gathered at Ikamva in Parow as the home of Ajax Cape Town hosted this year’s addition of the Strandfontein FC under-13 Tournament by the Sea.

Milano United were crowned champions after beating Khayelitsha’s Ulana Academy 1-0 in a nail-biting final.

And, as if that was not enough, their duo of Suaib Martin and stopper Dwayne Brown were voted player of the tournament and goalkeeper of the tournament respectively. Their coach, Puzzy Jansen, was named coach of the tournament.

The final between the tournament’s two best sides started at a fast pace with both sets of players asking serious questions.

It was, however, Milano who drew first blood, from a corner kick, in the early stages of the first half.

Ulana came back strongly, with speed and trickery on the ball, but their opponents stood their ground.

The Grassy Park side came out like a house on fire in the second half, looking for the second goal but Ulana countered that with attacks of their own.

The 1-0 scoreline was, in the end, enough to hand Milano victory and the title.

Coach Jansen admitted after the match that his side didn’t play as well as they should have.

He was, however, quick to note that, in any final, the way a team played was not as important as the result itself.

“Ulana put us under a lot of pressure but, to their credit, the boys held their nerve. They deserved the victory in the end as they were convincing throughout the tournament,” he said.

This year’s tournament was almost cancelled after organisers struggled to find a replacement venue for Strandfontein Sports Complex, which was deemed not in a good enough condition to play football at.

Tournament director Natasha Hendricks said the event was saved when the Urban Warriors approached them.

“We looked at all the avenues, including postponing the event to later in the year and even cancelling it altogether.

“There were, however, problems with both suggestions. Postponing the tournament would interfere with the league’s programme,” she said.

“Cancelling it altogether, on the other hand, was not an option either. Doing that would have denied this group of players a chance to play in this tournament because most of them would be ineligible next year.

“They deserve to play in this tournament and we had to consider them,” said Hendricks.

She said they had planned to have 32 teams participating this year, but circumstances forced them to have only 13 teams.

Despite those initial issues, the tournament finally kicked off and went smoothly, with the fans coming out in their numbers and the players showcasing what they were capable of.

One of the fans who watched keenly from the stands was Strandfontein’s own son and Ajax Cape Town senior team’s first choice goalkeeper, Jody February.

The national under-23 shotstopper, having played in the same tournament in 2008, knows exactly how important it is in terms of the players’ development.

“Academies and professional teams are here to watch the games, so it is an opportunity for every youngster to showcase what they can do. It can easily be a lifestyle changer because here you are playing against the best in the age group, in front of a large crowd,” he said.

“It is also an opportunity to show where they are as players and where they need to improve. So, I can say playing in this competition, and in others like it, played a big role in moulding me into the kind of a player I am today,” said February.