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Our young boys headed to Denmark and Sweden to participate in the worlds biggest youth cup, the Gothia Cup. Traveling to Denmark and then Sweden, training with the professional Soccer club FCN, their adventures are memories that will last a lifetime.
Day 1 and Day 2 - Depart USA / Arrive in Copenhagen
The boys arrived excited and on time at the Austin International airport. After checking in we took a team picture and gave the boys and their parents time to say their goodbyes. We then made our way through security without any issues and had plenty of time to spare in the departure lounge before boarding our direct flights overnight to London! Fantastic flight and the boys were all in great spirits. Once we arrived in London, the boys were tired, but remained focused as we navigated our way onto our flight from London to Copenhagen.
We arrived safely in Copenhagen to be greeted by Barry (Travel and Play) and Sven from (Interactional). We then made our way to FCN (Professional Danish Club) where the boys were to stay in the hotel built into the stadium. We gave the boys a couple of hours to get settled in before taking them for their first session. A light session with Coach Roman just to stretch their legs. The team then had their dinner before an early night to catch up on some much needed sleep.
Excellent travel day and the boys are now officially in Copenhagen, Denmark!
Day 3 - Training, sightseeing and game day
Today we started the day with breakfast at 7am. One of the goals of the stay in Copenhagen at the FCN stadium is to give the boys an insight into living like a professional academy player. In order for us to achieve this, the days start early with breakfast and then our first training session. Today the boys got to train with Richard Lilja, a Danish A licensed coach. The focus of the session was movement off the ball, encouraging the boys to create space and make runs. The boys enjoyed the session and were very complimentary afterwards.
After a quick shower, we made our way into Copenhagen City Center for a couple of hours to enjoy some of the local sights. We took the boys on a guided canal boat tour around the city before giving them a couple of hours free time to enjoy the city center.
It's a very lively city with lots to see and do. The boys enjoyed watching some of the local street entertainers.
Game time - Tonight we played our first game Vs a local youth side called GLADSAXE HERO. A fantastic experience for the boys and really opened their eyes to the different levels and styles of play from around the world.
Day 4 - Training, sightseeing and game day
Another early start for the boys before a training session with another A licensed professional coach. Today the session focused on finishing and shooting, it was an excellent session.
After the session we were invited to go and watch the FCN first team train, the boys loved watching the pros and also got the chance to sit and ask questions with the former team captain, Patrick who had previously played in La Liga before moving back to Denmark to play for FCN at the end of his career. He shared many stories about his journey to become a professional soccer player and also some fun stories of games played Vs Real Madrid and Barcelona. The boys favorite story was listening to how he got his nose broken by Ronaldo!…The boys were hanging on to every word.
In the afternoon we visited Frederkiborg Castle where we were given a guided tour by Sven Jensen. Fascinating history and stunning architecture! The boys then had some free time to enjoy the local village before getting back on the bus and heading to our 2nd game.
Game time. Today we played a team from Fredertiksvark. They had a very nice facility with grass fields and a club house overlooking the game fields. While we didn't get the result we were hoping for, it was a great game for the coaches to learn more about the boys in preparation for the Gothia Cup which kicks off in just a few days!!
After the game, we were invited to eat in the clubhouse with the other team. They had a nice BBQ spread put on for us. The boys enjoyed chatting with the local boys and learning more about their culture. It was great to see the boys interacting with kids thousands of miles away from home, yet sharing the same love for the game of soccer.
Day 5 - Check out and on to Sweden to compete in the Gothia Youth World Cup
We started the day with a fun 5v5 tournament. We had planned for a session, but some of the boys have picked up injuries during the two warm ups and several of the boys were tired. With this in mind we decided to have a fun, light hearted tournament. I’m pretty sure Coventry City won!
After the ‘kick about’ we finished packing, did room checks and then made our way to Sweden. We stopped for lunch on the way and arrived around 6.30pm. Its roughly a 3-4 hour trip.
Once we arrived we dropped the parents off at the Scandic Crown Hotel before heading to the school accommodation where the players and chaperones would be staying. Coach Roman and the chaperones got the boys settled in while Jay waited for Diego who was flying in from Madrid to join up with the team.
After we had the team settled and connected them with Diego, we took them on a brief tour and went over some key safety announcements. With the main one identifying a regular check in spot (the local 7 Eleven near the Heden Center) and a plan of action should a player somehow lose the group. We took them to the Heden Center which is the main headquarters for the tournament. Lots of games, activities and food for the boys to keep them entertained once the tournament kicks off tomorrow. It really is quite remarkable just how big and well organized this event is. It is one of those things in life that you just have to see for yourself to truly appreciate.
Day 6-12 - The Gothia Youth World Cup
After almost 12 months of planning, we had finally arrived in Sweden and were ready to compete in the Gothia Youth World Cup, the largest youth soccer tournament in the World. The boys were very excited and the coaches were anxious to get the first game out of the way to help settle the nerves! However, let’s not wish the time on the trip away, so much to see and do!
Part of the planning for our trip has us arriving in Sweden at least one full day before the tournament kicks off. We do this to allow the boys time to settle in, to allow the coaches time to scope out the facilities where we will be playing and to avoid the mad rush of teams arriving as the tournament draws closer.
Remember, there are over 1,700 teams from around the world arriving into the city in a short 48 hour window. It is so much less stressful to be all checked in early, understand how to navigate the tram system and to have a sense of relaxation before the tournament officially kicks off on the Monday. It is also nice for the boys to have a day off from soccer and a little free time after several days of two soccer sessions per day and lots of scheduled activities.
Game day and opening ceremony
Monday, the official kick off for the Gothia Cup, pretty much every team in the tournament gets their first game in today! Today we played a team from Ireland.
After meeting the boys two hours before kickoff, we navigated our way to the soccer field using the exceptional tram system that transports the public around the city. All of the boys, coaches and parents on the trip are given a ‘Gothia Card’ that allows us to use the public transport for free during the duration of the tournament.
We arrived at the facility with plenty of time to spare. The pitch was located in the center of a housing estate, a soccer field just sitting there for the use of the local kids, literally just a few steps from their homes. Such a contrast to what our boys are used to living back in San Antonio where we have to drive to almost every facility and for the most part, every facility in San Antonio is private and does not allow for kids to just go and have a ‘kick about’. I think it is safe to say, we can learn allot from the sheer accessibility of soccer fields in Sweden. Just imagine how good our kids would be if they could just play whenever they wanted too!
The game vs the Irish was eye opening for our boys. While we did not get the result we had hoped for, we learned allot about communication, confidence and gamesmanship on the field. The Irish lads were constantly talking and instructing each other and the game ended 4-1, but we did get the goal of the game and some may argue one of the goals of the entire tournament! After a corner was cleared only to the edge of the box, Logan Flores struck the ball on the half volley high into the top left corner of the goal with power and finesse beating the outstretched keeper. The boys and the coaches celebrated and I think it is safe to say Logan will forever remember ‘that goal’ he scored at the Gothia Youth World Cup, what a strike son!
Monday evening, after all of the first games have wrapped up, all teams make their way to the opening ceremony, an event that is really quite difficult to put into words. For a youth soccer tournament, it really is something you need to experience to fully understand the magnitude.
60,000 people from 80+ countries around the world, all inside one stadium to celebrate the beautiful game of soccer. Each country is recognized as they are paraded around the field, live music, dancers, Mexican waves, noise makers for each person, presentation of the Gothia Cup trophy, water, fire, wind and more before it is all capped off with a firework display that would rival many that you have seen before. The boys try their best to take it all in as they high five those that are lucky enough to represent their country on the main field, yes, we had front row seats at pitch level, wow, what an experience for our players. Seeing is believing!
During the course of the next couple of days, we continued with our game schedule competing with teams from Sweden and Denmark before successfully navigating our way through to the last 64 winning our first knock out game 2-1 vs Skalborg, a team from Denmark. We now had the chance to compete for a place in the Quarter finals. We were matched up against BK Hollviken from Sweden, a strong physical group of lads that were ready for a game. The game kicked off and after a few tense minutes the boys settled into a groove. We took the lead from a penalty before being pegged back to 1-1. We then took the lead again through another penalty and it was looking like we were on our way to the quarter finals. With literally seconds left in the game, the boys on the sideline were ready to run on to the field and celebrate when suddenly we gave away a penalty! Our hearts sunk as we watch the ball hit the back of the net and take the game into a penalty shootout. The boys were devastated and it took some calm coaching to get the boys mentally ready for a shootout knowing that they were literally seconds from advancing. It was never going to be easy. The boys were so close. We lost the shootout. Our tournament is over. Heartbreaking but Memories for life.
Now that we are officially out of the tournament we can now relax and enjoy a couple of days in Gothenburg without the pressure! Time to have some fun, time to go and explore the islands. There are several beautiful islands that sit off the coast of Gothenburg, many of which allow for public swimming and all of them are free for us to access with our Gothia Card. We took the boys to Branno, a quiet island where they enjoyed some time swimming and diving into the ocean from a selection of diving boards. It was fun to watch the boys interacting with each other in a non-soccer environment. Considering the team we bought over was made up from 4 different teams, it’s amazing how well they have bonded and become friends. After swimming we explored the island looking for a meal, pizza to be precise. We had heard about a restaurant that sold ‘amazing’ pizza and the boys were eager to find it. Little did we know that it was literally at the other end of the island and took us 30 minutes to get there. It was worth the wait, several boys commented that it was some of the best pizza they had ever had. The restaurant / bar was also very cool, a little shack overlooking the dock with great music and a fantastic relaxed atmosphere. A perfect end to a perfect day.
On our final day in Sweden we schedule a fun pickup game vs the team we had played from Ireland. No referee, just an opportunity for the boys to get one last game in and to spend some time interacting with the Irish lads. We mixed the teams up and just sat back and watched them play. We then made our way back to our accommodation before taking the boys to watch the U17 boys Elite final. Ironically, the team that won was from the Right to Dream Academy that is associated with FCN where we had stayed in Denmark at the start of the trip. The game was played at such a high level and really helped bring the trip around full circle. From starting our trip training and ‘living like a pro’ at the FCN stadium, watching the first team train, pre-tournament friendlies, to competing in the World Youth Cup, to now, watching a group of young men, many that have come from a small village in Ghana, playing the beautiful game at such a high level, was just the perfect ending to a perfect experience at the Gothia Youth World cup.
Day 13 / 14 - Back to Denmark and then home
Next stop, Denmark and the Copenhagen Island Hotel. This year we built in an extra day in Copenhagen at the end of the trip before flying home. In years past, we have had many requests for more time in Copenhagen so this year we delivered! The hotel we stay in backs up to the Copenhagen Canal where there is a 60 yard lap pool and a diving board swim area built and roped off for the public! Needless to say, within an hour of checking in, the boys were swimming and having fun diving into the canal!... We then got some dinner before making our way back to the hotel for lights out!
Today we took the boys to Tivoli Gardens, one of, if not the oldest theme park in the world. With rides, restaurants, bars and beautiful gardens there is something for everyone. The boys enjoyed several hours exploring the park before heading back to get showered and ready for our leaving dinner.
To wrap the tour up, we enjoyed our leaving dinner in the very nice hotel restaurant that overlooks the harbor. The boys had all chipped in to buy the chaperones the official Gothia Cup soccer balls to thank them for all their amazing work on the trip and for them having to put up with the ‘boys’ for the time in Sweden! We made the presentations to the chaperones and then gave out some serious awards for MVP, leader on tour, sportsmanship award, Good sport award, Key attacking play and key defensive player. Then the laughs then began as we gave out some fun awards, prizes to recognize each player for something ‘funny, or serious’ they had done while on tour… the meaning behind the awards are for the boys on tour… what happens in Sweden stays in Sweden…
3.45am. We all meet in the lobby, exhausted and still half asleep, we load the boys up onto the bus and make our way to the airport to embark on our trip back to our families in San Antonio.
Memories for life. For the rest of these boys lives, they will always be able to say ‘I played at the Gothia Youth World Cup’.
It has been a pleasure affording these young men this life experience.
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