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The Nike Cup sends Singapore football kids to Brazil
Last month a series of mini football tournaments culminated in a grand finale, the winners of which are heading to Brazil to train at one of the world's best football training schools
Glenn Heng, marketing manager of Nike SE Asia, says "It’sall about playing football anywhere -- from void decks to open spaces -- using only slippers or a dustbin for goal posts.”
That’s exactly what they did at the Nike Cup. Only that this five-a-side football tournament has more panache, and the winners get to train at Granja Comary in Brazil.
Now that’s a huge carrot for aspiring Kakas!
Take me out to the…car park?
It’s chaos at the East entrance to The National Stadium. Footballers swarm around a Cristiano Ronaldo statue, erected by Nike, as they spilt up into groups of ten on courts cramped by signboards. They kick, lob, and spin the football with one aim: to slot it between goalposts that are knee-high and shoulder-width sized.
Heng said, “This tournament has been happening for the last four weekends. We had preliminary rounds in the north, east, south and west zones, and one at *Scape which is the central zone. We have about 200 teams here today, about half of each division. So basically the best of Singapore is here.”
The Nike Cup isn’t confined to Singapore’s shores either. It’s taken place in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. And each country’s contestants has its own style of playing.
Heng noted, “In Thailand they play Futsal, and not so much street football. So their skills are more Futsal like. In Singapore it’s more street football, plus on pitch football. But they’ve learnt to adapt to the different environment.
“In a tighter environment, they’re playing with the required skills. In the beginning, you might see them trying to whack the ball. But as it goes on, they’re adapting to it.”
Aren’t these guys retired?
It was a long day where tempers flared, kicks ensued, and fouls were called (but sometimes ignored). But in the end, it always ends with two teams facing off for the final match.
Come dusk, they will match up for attractive prizes. The Junior category champions will win S$8,000 of Nike products, while the Senior category winners get an all-expenses-paid trip to Brazil.
But that’s not the only highlight.
Singaporean ex-national football players -- Fandi Ahmad, David Lee, Aide Iskander, Indra Sahdan Daud, and Fazrul Nawaz -- put in an appearance and participated in an exhibition match with a team of youngsters.
There was much horsing around, laughter, and sublime skill. And when Ahmad scored a goal, the roars of approval harked back to the Kallang Roar days. But that was long ago, and in a different time.
Ahmad’s aware of it as he answered the emcee’s question: “Do these guys remind you of your past?”
It was a gracious nod: “Ahhh…they are much more.”
Going for the win
The winners will go on a trip to Brazil to take lessons and drills at the Brazilian Football Confederation’s training center in Granja Comary; to strut their stuff through local games like futsal, street futsal, turf football, and beach football.
But first they have to win the last match.
The whistle blows.
Both teams run their hearts out. They track, tackle and trip their opponents onto the asphalt. A foot is held up high to deny another the ball. An elbow jams into an opponent’s chest to hold him off.
The marking is tight, sometimes a bit too tight and there are cries of indignation and pleas to the referee. Someone in the audience yelled, “Ref! Look!” But he just shrugs it off.
Gooaalll! 1-0! And then another!
All hail the champions of the Nike Cup, El Nino Delfiro. They come away with a convincing 2-0 win.
It wasn’t the easiest path to victory, as team member, Syafiq Rosland says. “The hardest part was playing in front of a crowd. My heart was beating like crazy.”
But it’s all over, and they can go back to being excited school kids who will “post our award on Facebook, tell people we’re going to Brazil, call our parents, and get them to prepare a few thousand [dollars] for us to go Brazil!”
What will they do there?
“Shop! And go to the beach!” grins Rosland. But hopefully, they might just, as Heng said, “Conquer the city, and become the champion of that city.”