2009-08-09 to 12 [Youth Football] Balcom BMW Cup 2009 (平和祈念広島国際ユースサッカー２００９)
Posted by stefanole on 2009/08/23
The Balcom BMW Cup 2009 concluded last Wednesday, with Sanfrecce Hiroshima Youth running out eventual champions. The close-fought competition saw Sanfrecce Youth and a Hiroshima High Schools Selection face off against Chivas U17 (Deportivo Guadalajara of Mexico) and Ajax Cape Town U17 (South Africa) in a round-robin format.
This is the second time that Sanfrecce Youth have won this tournament, which is in its fourth year. They first won it in 2006. The city has played host to youth teams from Spain, Brazil, France and Holland in the past.
Chivas (“the Goats” in Spanish), returned to Hiroshima this year as the reigning champions, having won the competition in 2008. They played out a draw in a friendly match against FC Tokyo Youth, before travelling down to Hiroshima.
Their senior team is one of the two most successful teams in Mexican footballing history, albeit one with rather eccentric selection policies. For over a century now, Chivas has enforced a Mexican-only rule, which has recently become enshrined in a bylaw according to the LA Times.
Although most likely illegal if the club were based in the European Union for example, the law is proving a big selling point for the club, as well as its equally eccentric owner, Jorge VERGARA. Says he: “One day when I was 11 or 12, I thought, ‘Why do you wear socks?'” Vergara has apparently remained sock-free ever since, in much the same way that Chivas has remained free of non-Mexicans.
Ajax Cape Town, on the other hand, are an inherently diverse club. Their senior team plays in South Africa’s top division, and are known as the “Urban Warriors”. The club is one of Ajax Amsterdam’s world network of feeder teams, and has been since 1999 when two Cape Town teams were merged.
Steven Pienaar, now at Everton in the English Premier League, is probably their most famous protégé. He signed for Everton in 2008 on a £2 million transfer, and has scored two goals for the South African national team. He will probably represent his country at next year’s FIFA World Cup finals.
Ajax prepared for the tournament by playing a pair of friendlies, one of which was against J2’s Cerezo Osaka Youth. They were eager to prove their abilities on the international stage, after having won the South African Engen Challenge Cup in July.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima is the oldest continuously active team in the J-League, and has been the national and international stage for many of the products of its youth system. KOMANO Yuichi is probably the best example, having come through Sanfrecce’s Youth system to play for the senior side for seven years, and to date he has won 44 caps for Japan. This story ends on a sour note for Sanfrecce however, as Komano jumped ship for Jubilo Iwata in 2007 after Sanfrecce were relegated to J2.
I would say that currently, the most famous player at Sanfrecce Youth is OSAKI Junya. Although he did not play in the game I watched, he appeared later in the tournament and scored at least one goal. Osaki is a high-school sannensei who scored on his senior Sanfrecce début against Albirex Niigata in the Nabisco Cup in June this year (match report here), and also has a senior J-League cap to his name, appearing as a substitute as Sanfrecce lost to Komano’s Jubilo Iwata in July.
The Hiroshima High Schools team is made up primarily of players from Hiroshima prefecture’s two strongest high schools, namely Hiroshima Minami and Hiroshima Kanno. Hiroshima Minami are of course the reigning national high school football champions. The squad is rounded out by students from other high schools, including Setouchi, Sanyo and Kenko. The team has since moved on to play a tournament hosted by J2’s Roasso Kumamoto, on Kyushu.
The matches were all played not at the the Big Arch, but at a smaller stadium next-door, on a very green and well-maintained pitch. The first round was played on Sunday the 9th, with Chivas overcoming Sanfrecce Hiroshima Youth 1-0 in a close game, and Ajax Cape Town beating Hiroshima High Schools 2-0 under the floodlights.
The Chivas team seemed almost as if they were determined to pull out every stereotypical Sudamericano trick in the book in order to try to turn the game against Sanfrecce. Tough tackling gave way to simulation and time-wasting as stretchers were called for and then dismissed, players huddled over the ball instead of taking dead-ball kicks, and throw-ins were drawn-out for so long that you wondered if the little billy goat’s arms would drop off. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Japanese referee shout at players before, but this one was sufficiently wound-up by Chivas’ antics to do so, and I have to admit that I was also. One Chivas player almost jumped out of his socks to take a corner as I screamed at him to get on with it from the front row. There was also the small matter of Chivas’ sponsor: there was something absurd about a team that has “BIMBO” emblasoned across their chests.
Ajax versus Hiroshima Schools was much more like a football match however, as both sides charged forward gamely. A very even first half gave way to a second half in which Hiroshima suddenly never really looked like scoring. An injury to the Hiroshima captain unsettled their midfield, and the first goal came about through some very good work on the left as the Ajax player beat two Hiroshima defenders on the way to blasting past the goalkeeper.
It was a decent day of football, with my ticket being valid for both games. The attendance was a little disappointing, since about half of those who turned up were friends or fellow students or club members at the schools represented, but it is likely that this would have improved for the final day at least.
The tournament had a rest day on Monday, when players from the visiting teams visited the Peace Memorial Park, saw the sights of Hiroshima, and met local schoolchildren.
On Tuesday the 11th battle was rejoined, with Hiroshima Schools taking on Sanfrecce Youth, and Chivas playing Ajax. Six goals were scored in the second half (which can be viewed here) as Sanfrecce took down the Schools 2-4. Chivas’ hopes of retaining their title took a dent however as they could only draw with Ajax, 1-1. The results meant that Ajax and Chivas missed their chance to seal overall victory, and we went into the final day with three teams mathematically able to win the tournament, Sanfrecce one point behind Chivas and Ajax’s 4 points.
The final day on Wednesday the 12th did not disappoint. Hiroshima Schools fought bravely against Chivas (again, the game can be viewed here) to hold them to a 0-0 draw. This meant Chivas finished with 5 points and a +1 goal difference. Ajax Cape Town went into the the final game of the tournament needing only a draw to win (on goal difference), and Sanfrecce Youth knew that only a win would be good enough to take them to the top. They did this in quite spectacular style, scoring another four goals to beat Ajax 4-1. The result meant that Sanfrecce lifted the BMW Balcom Cup for the second time, and scored as many goals as the other three sides put together, which really is what Sanfrecce are all about.
Note: the promotional poster for the competiton advertises the visiting teams as Chivas U18 and Ajax CT U18. Chivas’ and Ajax CT’s own websites however claim the sides are their U17 teams, so I have used this classification instead.