The youth Football season kicked off again this year with the staging of one of the country’s premier U17 tournaments.
Staged between June and August, the much sought after Engen Knock Out Challenge (EKOC) tournament had hundreds of teams competing for qualification into the knockout phases which saw 80 youth football teams challenge one another for their regional championship title.
Currently in its 8th year and played across five regions, this enthralling tournament has grown from strength to strength; with 2011 not only setting the standard but raising the bar for other youth football tournaments to follow.
The three day regional tournaments are based on a knock out format with 16 teams competing in four groups. After a number of gruelling matches, teams who make it through to the final, compete for cup honours on the final day.
All regional finals received good community support as spectators flocked to show their support for their teams and which motivated players to up their game, producing great quality football.
This year’s finals had a mixture of past winners and newcomers raising the championship silverware. Regional winners for 2011 were Ajax Cape Town FC (Cape Town), Cherrians FC (Durban), Harmony Academy (Bloemfontein), Buffalo City Soccer School (Port Elizabeth) and Orlando Pirates FC (Johannesburg).
All regional champs walk away with a beautiful floating trophy, an impressive range of Umbro apparel and R10 000 in prize money. Aside from this, standout players and teams in various categories were recognised and decorated with medals and prizes.
The overall feeling amongst the young players was that of gratitude for an opportunity to bring their passion to the field. For some, this tournament meant more than just playing football, it helped them stay away from troublesome elements in the community and enabled them not only to bettering themselves on the field but also assisted them to build stronger characters as confident young men off the field.
An elated Duncan Crowie, Engen Santos Youth Academy Coach and National Selector said, “This year, teams that would normally fall out in the initial round robin stages, progressed to the finals, showing that Coaches have prioritised the skills development of their young players. I am in awe of the level of passion, technical skills and fitness the kids brought to the field this year. Their display of sportsmanship and professionalism was a pleasure to witness”.
This development programme provides a competitive platform for young talent from all over South Africa and affords them the opportunity of showcasing their talent and being observed where they otherwise may not have had the opportunity. By developing players skills at junior level it greatly enhances their chances of success once they reach senior structures.
SAFA Representative, Eric Smith commented: “SAFA is proud to be associated with a tournament of this calibre. Engen’s involvement is truly inspiring and we are grateful for their support in developing football skills amongst the South African youth. One of the challenges in SA youth football is the lack of sponsorship and support from other brands and we hope that they will take direction from Engen in order to have more development programmes like the EKOC.
The provision of quality playing fields, planning and execution of the tournament all contributed to its success. Furthermore this youth development programme boasts three PSL clubs being hosts to this tournament which highlights Engen’s passion for youth development in soccer, both on the amateur and professional fronts.
Brad Bergh, Engen Group Sponsorship Manager said “Our deepest thanks goes to every coach, official, referee, talent scout, player, spectator and host club for making the 2011 EKOC a standout event programme in the youth Football calendar of this country. We extend a special word of appreciation to SAFA and its local structure for their support of our development vision and its effect on Football in this country and, to the young men who participated, thank you for your commitment to the game, your involvement has made the Engen Knock Out Challenge tournament what it is today.”
Bergh concluded by saying ” While some teams may not have performed as well as they had hoped, they should not forget that they did qualify for the last 16 in their region which is a notable achievement in itself. No matter where each team finished in the final standings, with Engen they are all Number One.”