The quietest and noisiest competitions of the Winners Games – chess and football – were taking place at the same time. Fans flooded the stands around the football field and were screaming and stomping their feet, while the players were running up a storm between the two goals.
The teams were formed by chance: the opening day every child who had entered his or her name in the football competition would pick a card, not knowing which team’s name that card had on it. It was done intentionally to let the children get to know each other playing together regardless of which team they came with officially.
On the second day, the players had a half hour practice to let them get used to playing on the same team and to give coaches time to access the players’ skill levels and figure out where to put each player on the field.
Experience has taught us that 90% of the players have no prior training in football and want to play in the competition just to have fun and chase after the ball. On the other hand, having had a chance to play in a team with a coach, some of them might decide to start playing consistently and improve their skills, join a local team or form one of their own in their neighborhood.
During our football competition, each team got to play three games, 15 minutes each. The pace is considerably low, especially in games with 9 – 10 y.o. girls. For example, today in three 15-minute games only one goal was scored, but what a goal that was!
The older the players, the higher the tempo and stakes in the game, especially in boys teams. After all, with age they gain more experience – some have been playing with their school friends, others – in the neighborhood. There are no finals in our competitions – the teams are scored on the number of wins in each group.
It seems that when a team gets a player from Serbia or Croatia, its chances to win gets several times higher.
A handsome young fellow with a nice football haircut, 10-year-old Noan Belatz from Croatia is running towards the field. He’s been playing football for a year now, he loves going to practice and often hears compliments on his skills from the coach. Noan really hopes to win; the team he joined only yesterday seems promising and prepared. Noan is interrupted by two nine-year-old Lukas, both from Croatia, they have both finished their games and were heading towards trampolines to have fun. The whole trio turned out to be avid fans of Lionel Messi, the legendary Barcelona player. All three boys are hoping to win gold today.
Football players from Kazakhstan also have their hearts set on gold. They are in the older group and are awaiting their turn to take the field.
The 15-year-old Ramazan Yagmurov, who has been cured from thyroid cancer, says he’s been training in football but considers himself an amateur. “There is always hope to win. I’m glad we’re not playing against the little ones, they are tough – fiercely jump right in front of each other. We’re not that ruthless.”
Ruslan Dzhumaniyazov, 16 y.o., plays for a different team, but wants to win as much as Ramazan. “They sorted us out on purpose, so we would make friends with kids from other countries and I think it’s great. The more friends you make, the better. I’ve been playing football since early childhood – with kind in my neighborhood and my friends. I watch football on TV too. “Real” and “Yuventus” played yesterday, it was a great game to watch. “Real” won and I was rooting for that team. I feel like luck will be on my side today!”
Yeskali Egizbaev, 15 y.o., also hopes his team will win; he is eager to bring home a medal and prefers it to be one for his football achievements.
It will be interesting to see whether a team of 14-year-old girls will win gold. Arina Makhotina is certain they can. After all, if these ladies could beat leukemia, can’t they win on the football field? “I don’t see anything wrong with my liking football. I love being on the team with boys in my neighborhood. I am teaching my two younger brothers to love the game too. Playing football here was tough at first – we couldn’t understand each other because some kids spoke Russian, others spoke English, but eventually we figured it out, started using gestures and found common ground quickly. I placed fourth in swimming and ping-pong, so I intend to return next year and do better.”
Everybody wants to win and that's wonderful! Set a high goal for yourself and you're half way there. Let's wait for the final scores. Best of luck to all of you!