On Saturday 28th May, 14 warriors, their coaches and entourage from Total Soccer Cayman in the Cayman Islands embarked upon a journey to the Netherlands to compete in the Rood Wit International Under 10 tournament 2022 in the town of St. Willebrord which took place on 5th and 6th June.
This prestigious tournament sees European academies from professional teams such as Manchester City, Liverpool FC, Juventus, FC Köln and a host of renowned Dutch and Belgian team academies including Ajax, PSV, Feyenoord, Anderlecht and Gent compete for the cup. This is a serious tournament limited to 24 teams, including in addition to the above mentioned, teams from Denmark, Germany, Norway and Ireland and entry is by invitation only. Total Soccer is fortunate to have coaches well connected to the academies of these professional teams in the Netherlands which facilitated the invitation. Last time out in 2019 Total Soccer Cayman achieved a ranking of 21. Thus, the hope for 2022 was simply to rank higher.
The team travelled to the Netherlands the weekend before the tournament, primarily to enable the team to adjust to the time zone, but also to enable the team to play some friendly matches and to see some of the sights of Southern Netherlands including a fantastic tour of the Ajax stadium which the team loved. Friendlies were played against N.A.C Breda, FC Utrecht, and Excelsior. Nerves were high for the first of these games with Total Soccer simply not knowing what to expect from the academy teams of these European elites. It should be noted that the Dutch and Belgian professional academies are generally regarded as the best run in Europe, producing many of Europe’s top talent including arguably the greatest of all time, one who revolutionized football in Europe completely with his Total Football philosophy, Johan Cruyff of Ajax and Barcelona.
After a nervy start, Total Soccer’s irrepressible U10 team settled in their game and won all of these friendlies. Friendlies are however, well, friendly and attention turned to the tournament itself with a certain amount of trepidation as to what these European heavy weights might be capable of in a real cup competition. 24 teams are divided into four groups of six, each playing each other once with the top three after five games going into the Champions League competition and the bottom three going into the Europa League. Total Soccer Cayman were drawn against FC Nordsjælland (Denmark), Feyenoord (Netherlands), KRC Genk (Belgium), Juventus (Italy) and KFC Turnhout (Belgium). Esteemed company indeed, including the son of Claudio Marchisio at the Juventus academy. After two wins, including against Juventus, two draws and a loss from the group stage this was enough to place Total Soccer third in the table and a Champion’s League place. The team showed great courage to bounce back from the opening game loss to compose themselves and steadily get better and better results. The result against Juventus was a dream come true! The weather on day one of the tournament started out very overcast, but became pretty sunny by late afternoon and it did not go unnoticed by the parents that the sunnier and warmer it got, the better they played.
With a win, two draws and two losses in the Champions League stage against TechnoSelect Talents (Netherlands), FC Utrecht (Netherlands), Club Brugge (Belgium), RSC Anderlecht (Belgium) and FC Köln (Germany), Total Soccer Cayman finished fourth in the table and entered into a play off match against Royal Antwerp FC (Belgium) to complete for a seventh or eighth overall placing out of 24. After ending that game 1-1, Total Soccer lost on the dreaded Penalties, thus achieving an eighth place ranking, placing higher than Manchester City, Liverpool FC and Juventus! Truly a remarkable achievement for a nonprofessional club from a tiny island in the Caribbean. “Cayman Islands?” was heard whispered by many at the tournament and at the medal and cup presentation ceremony presented by the mayor of the town of St Willebrord, the MC declared Total Soccer Cayman “the sensation of the tournament!”.
These little warriors from CIS, Cayman Prep, St Ignatius and Sir John A. Cumber played their hearts out, showed immense determination and tenacity, but above all, great teamwork to leave their mark in Europe and to raise the profile of the Cayman Islands on a stage that few thought would ever be possible for football in the Cayman Islands. Congratulations to the players and coaches of Total Soccer Cayman!