Box Hill United’s U/14 boys and U/16 girls recently returned Down Under after a stellar showing in the 2019 Gothia Cup in Quingdao, China.
Between August 9 and 16, the competition had pitted youth teams from around the globe across both categories, where our U/14 boys finished as runners-up and the U/16 girls clinched the bronze medal.
It was far from a smooth sailing for the Box Hill contingent though, but both the squads fought valiantly to register podium finishes while battling injuries and inclement weather alike.
Our U/14 boys’ ebullient brand of football ensured them as group-leaders, as they brushed aside Gimpo Citizen’s FC (3-0), Shengyong FC (5-1) and Singapore Sports School (4-0).
WLMQ 117 FC provided the semi-final obstacle, but were ousted on penalties 3-1 (0-0 A.E.T). The Box Hill goalkeeper made two vital stops in the shootout to confirm that his side became the first Australian outfit to reach the competition’s grand finale.
However, our boys faced an unfortunate 3-1 defeat against a strong TopSkor Indonesia in the summit clash.
For Box Hill’s U/16 girls, proceedings began with a walk-over win against Chenyang District High School, after which they lost 3-1 to eventual gold medallists Shanghai Academy.
But successive victories over Guangzhou True Light Middle School (6-0) and Quingdao Haixi FC (4-0) put them back on track.
Needing at least a draw to punch a last-four ticket, the side succumbed to a 1-0 defeat against Swedish outfit AIK FF, thus setting up a third-place play-off against Guangzhou TLMS, who were ultimately downed 3-1.
Sharpshooter Erin Keyt emerged with 11 of the 14 goals scored by the team in their bronze-medal run-in, with Abigail Newman and Victoria Zikas (double) adding the other strikes for our junior girls.
Stefanos Sakalis, coaching the U/16 girls, highlighted how adapting to different playing styles added to his players’ skillset. He said, “They played against different schools of football, like the European team AIK from Sweden and teams from China. It helped them to see where their level is and compare with those countries.
“The Swedish team held their position more than us [while] the Chinese teams pressurised [opponents]. [They] learned to switch the ball and play one or two-touch football. This experience from the Gothia Cup can drive them in the future.”
While U/14s’ coach Jake ten Hacken echoed Sakalis’ sentiments, he was further pleased with his charges’ combative mindset and added, “I am very proud of each player’s resilience and never-say-die attitude. They fought outside the pitch to be in the best condition on the pitch.
“It wasn't enough to play good football. You need to be mentally tough, be brave and play with passion. I believe these qualities separate the good teams from the great teams.
“The desire to perform to the highest standards was on display from the moment the whistle went. This defined our competition and got us to the final stage.”