Some of the most exciting young players in the world showed off their talent in front of 15,000 fans at the 67th edition of the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup during a two-day carnival of international football on 4 and 5 May 2005.
Manchester United beat AIK Stockholm 2-0 in the final to retain their title and pick up the Fair Play award with a dazzling display at the Letzigrund Stadium in Zurich. Sporting Portugal finished third after overcoming Brazilian giants FC Santos 1-0 in a thrilling 3rd/4th play-off match.
Amateur club FC Blue Stars Zurich have been hosting the event since its inception in 1939. It has since developed into one of the most illustrious youth tournaments in the world, showcasing such players as Bobby Charlton, George Best, Bobby Moore, Fulvio Collovati, Jay-jay Okocha, David Beckham and Kakà over the years.
This year saw Greece's PAOK FC, and Swiss sides Basel, Grasshoppers Zurich, FC Zurich and Young Boys of Berne join United, AIK, Santos and Sporting Portugal as guests.
In addition, in the UN International Year of Sport and Physical Education 2005, Israel's Maccabi Haifa, with a team containing both Jewish and Arab players, and FK Flamurtari of Kosovo were also invited.
"It is a great education for the young players to come here," said tournament technical director Marcel Staub. "It is a wonderful opportunity to play against top teams from around the world. But it is not just about football, it is a social and cultural education as well. Some of these players flew for the first time in their lives to come here."
Many of the Flamurtari players had never travelled outside of Kosovo before, and the team doctor was called into action in unexpected fashion as soon as they arrived in Zurich to save the life of a guest at their hotel who had suffered a heart attack.
For the Kosovans, the happy ending to this drama was just one of the many positive experiences that they drew from the tournament. Club president Fadil Ismaili explained that the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup will go some way to healing the scars of the recent civil war in Kosovo.
"The war cast a deep depression over Kosovo, but football is a very important way to help young people look forward with hope rather than live every day of their lives with the past," he said. "We were treated wonderfully and with great respect and we have made many friends from our visit. The publicity we will get from taking part in this tournament will help the development of football in Kosovo and hopefully realise our dream of one day joining the FIFA family."
FIFA's patronage of the Blue Stars tournament began in 1991, but before then a youthful Joseph Blatter took part as a player in 1955 with Swiss side FC Sierre. Writing in this year's programme notes the FIFA President said: "Football has to demonstrate how one can help teach people to forgive and understand each other to overcome all boundaries."
This is a message that the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup can help to promote as young players from around the world continue to entertain and thrill while maintaining the tradition of football as a sport of friendship and unity.