A sunny and warm Lisbon welcomed about 600 athletes from 26 teams coming from five countries across two continents to compete in one of the best youth football tournaments in Europe: the third edition of the Lisbon Football Youth Cup took Portugal's capital by storm this past October 26 and 27.
The Lisbon Football Youth Cup is a combination of Lisbon's warm Autumn weather, passion for football, competitiveness and desire to win! It is also a poster child for the ability of sports in general and football in particular to promote understanding and friendship amongst people of very different backgrounds and culture. For two full days, the sports complex of the Lisbon University Stadium witnessed extremely competitive football matches played with great fair play, and even as each and every team had the same goal - to win the cup - the defeated teams ended their matches in a good mood and happy to have participated.
It took about 70 matches over a weekend full of football to find our Lisbon Football Youth Cup 2019 champions in five different age groups: boys U13, U15 and U17; girls U15 and U17. Overall, 600 young footballers representing 26 teams coming from 5 countries competed in what is, indisputably, a great youth football tournament.
Test ground for local teams
It should come as no surprise, given that LFYC calls Lisbon its home, that local teams made up about half the participating teams. Portuguese clubs, academies and schools come to the Lisbon Football Youth Cup to test their team's quality against international opponents that pose different challenges, given the different styles of play.
But old rivalries aren't easy to forget. That's why one of the most anticipated matches in the tournament was the classic and passionate Lisbon derby between the two biggest city clubs: SL Benfica and Sporting CP. Their U15 girls' teams were to battle each other on Saturday afternoon at the end of the group stage. The game would determine which team would come out of this stage in the first place, further upping the stakes. At the of a very balanced game, which drew the attention of many football fans, Benfica got the better of it. Final score: 2-1 for the red team.
Fate plays tricks on the heart of footballers and fans alike: on Sunday, these teams were to meet again, this time in the grand final that took place at the Honour Stadium inside the Lisbon University Stadium complex. Once again, balance was the dominant note of the match, but this time the Sporting girls earned the ultimate prize: at the end of a very tactical but nevertheless exciting clash they won 1-0 and took the trophy to Alvalade, their home turf.
North, south... and the far east
The Lisbon Football Youth Cup has always been an international competition, ever since its first edition back in 2017. Like their Portuguese counterparts, numerous international teams participate in LFYC as a way to test their gameplay in the context of a demanding trophy, where each team must compete in about 5 matches over a busy weekend of football.
You could almost say that this year's LFYC was a battle between the south, with its "Latin" style of play, and the north, with its traditionally more "vertical" gameplay, as Lisbon was the host of a significant contingent of teams coming from Sweden (Åsa IF, Ursviks IK, Lidingö, Hammarby IF and Kallfors) and Finland (HJK 02, HJK 06, HP-4 and PuiU/MPS). Additionally, from Ireland came the intrepid girls from Galway WFC. Nevertheless, boldly going where no other Chinese team had gone before, we had the pleasure of welcoming Beijing Dongcheng's U17 girls' team, rendering the 2019 edition of LFYC a truly worldwide tournament.
The boys' U17 competition was a perfect illustration of this clash between southern and northern styles of play. In one of the semi-finals, two Portuguese teams battled: CF Os Belenenses and Colégio São Tomás. The match ended with a 2-2 draw; in the penalty kicks, Colégio São Tomás' boys were more efficient and won 4-3. In the other semi-final, Ursviks IF (from Sweden) and HJK 02 (from Finland) also came to a draw: 1-1 was the final score. The penalty kicks (4-3) dictated that Ursivks IF would fight for the cup in the final match of the day. This time, the north won: Colégio São Tomás didn't find an antidote to the visiting team's more physical and direct gameplay and conceded the win 4-2.
The rise of female football is real and it shows at LFYC
Female football is becoming ever more popular worldwide, thanks in part to global stars such as Marta, from Brazil, Mia Hamm, from the USA, or Caroline Seger, from Sweden. Increasingly more girls take up the "beautiful game" as their sport of choice, and it shows at LFYC as well: we had 11 teams from five countries competing for the cup in the U15 and U17 categories.
Female footballers don't lag behind their masculine counterparts in no accountable way, which is a testament of the great work being developed all over by schools, academies and clubs. The girls playing at LFYC displayed a very evolved tactical and technical gameplay, and every match was a delight to watch. Very balanced competitiveness was, once again, the dominant note: even the underdogs from Beijing Dongcheng proved a very worthy adversary. They learned fast and their performance improved noticeably as the tournament went on.
More than any other, one team deserves the headlines: the girls' U17 team from Ireland, Galway WFC. In their homeland, during the last sporting season, they won both the championship and the cup. At LFYC, they remained undefeated all the way until the final, where they encountered the experienced SL Benfica team. After a 1-1 draw at the end of the regular time, the Irish girls kept their cool and ended up with the trophy in their hands, having won the penalty kicks 6-5.
A football party on and off-field
What makes this tournament so special isn't only the dozens of matches played by a myriad of international teams over a full weekend of competition. It is also the spirit of intercultural friendship, like when the Chinese girls gifted their opponents with tokens of appreciation from their culture. Such spirit permeates the food court and fun zone, where the players with their multi-coloured jerseys and the fans of multiple nationalities congregate: you wouldn't believe the racket a group of Swedish supporters can summon! It is also the opportunity to visit Lisbon and nearby Sintra or Cascais, which many foreign teams happily take.
Minna, the team manager for the Finnish team HJK 02, said it best: "We really enjoyed it. The weather was good, the location of our hotel was perfect and the tournament was well organised. Please include age group U20 so we can come back!"
All of us at Move Sports, the tournament organiser, couldn't be more proud of our work and of all the teams that participated! All year round we organise training camps, sports tours and corporate events around many different sports, but both the Lisbon Football Youth Cup and Portugal Rugby Youth Festival are what makes our hearts beat faster and stronger! We already miss the whistle sound that signals one more match beginning. That's why we are already preparing the 2020 edition of the Lisbon Football Youth Cup!