FOR anyone walking past Marks Park sports club in Johannesburg this weekend, they would be forgiven for thinking that the FIFA Confederations Cup had started early.
With â€˜Spainâ€™, â€˜Italyâ€™, â€˜Brazilâ€™, â€˜South Africaâ€™, â€˜New Zealandâ€™, â€˜Iraqâ€™, â€˜USAâ€™ and â€˜Egyptâ€™ all battling it out over the weekend for the Schools Confederations Cup national finals, the football was sizzling as crowds gathered to witness the action on the fields.
The national teams were not getting in some extra tournament practice before 14 June but rather it was the schools, whose provinces were asked to adopt participating FIFA Confederations Cup nations, that were battling it out for the national schools title.
The schools tournament forms part of the â€˜My 2010 School Adventureâ€™ campaign, an initiative between the departments of Education and Sport and Recreation and the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee (OC) , which aims to promote both education and participation in football at a school level using the World Cup as a platform from which to do this.
In what they will surely hope is a good omen for the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup, the â€˜USAâ€™, adopted by the North West province and â€˜Iraqâ€™, adopted by the Western Cape, took the under-18 girls and boys title respectively. The under-14 tournament was an all-African affair with the African Union, adopted by KwaZulu Natal winning the boys title and South Africa, adopted by Gauteng, winning the girls title.
With over 8000 schools initially entering the tournament the victory of the four national winners is certainly no small matter.
â€œWe are all so happy. We have wanted to win this since the beginning of the tournament last year. I know the people back home in the North West will be happy, they all call us the â€˜USA boysâ€™,â€ said the captain of the winning North West province under-18 team, Johannes Tlapu.
The mid-fielder may be looking forward to seeing some of the best teams in the world in South Africa when they arrive for the FIFA Confederations Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cupâ„¢ one year later, but he has dreams of one day playing in a World Cup himself.
â€œThis tournament is great for us as it will help us to become great football players and I hope you will see me play in Brazil for the  World Cupâ€.
For the Chief Executive Officer of the OC, Dr Danny Jordaan, the schools tournament is important for development of football in South Africa.
â€œThe roots of South African football are in the schools and this tournament has set a good example.â€
For Jordaan, the tournament also provided a chance to get South Africaâ€™s children involved in the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup. â€” fifa.com