Set beneath the clear blue skies of Santiago and amid the welcoming shade of the city´s Parque Forrestal, the Festival Sudamericano Football for Hope Chile 2008 couldn´t have hoped for a more fitting location for its final day of street football action. And it goes without saying that the football, and more importantly the spirit of fair play and friendship, lived up to the high standards set earlier in the week.
Following Friday´s exciting second group stage matches in the neighbourhood of Cerro Navia, an area of Santiago where violent crime is sadly a daily occurrence and where local organisation CHIGOL uses football to try to provide an alternative to the area´s young people, the stage was set for the knockout rounds of the street football tournament.
Delegations representing countries from across the whole of the South American continent and specially invited guests from South Africa battled it out between the boards of the specially constructed five-a-side pitch before sitting down to discuss how well each team respected their team mates and the opposition as well as the rules decided upon at the start of the match. Victory on the pitch was worth three points, but with a total of six other points up for grabs for respect and solidarity, the game could easily be won pitch-side.
FIFA General Secretary Jérôme Valcke paid the Festival an unexpected visit for the semi-final stage of the tournament, adding a little more excitement to the already buzzing stadium. The first match saw Eprocad of Brazil sneak through against the mixed Ecuadorian delegation of A Ganar and Ser Paz, while the second match between local team Edugol and the Liga Argentina de Fútbol Callejero (Argentinean Street Football League) was a hard fought match between old rivals Chile and Argentina.
In a true example of the Festival´s friendship and solidarity, the finalists played wearing their opposite number´s shirt - the Brazilians in the green of Edugol, the Chileans in the navy blue of Eprocad. The final could hardly have been scripted better, either - a perfect combination of silky football skills, teamwork, friendship, fun and a penalty shootout. Despite the home crowd support for Edugol, it was the Brazilians who inched through by one goal, although watching the two teams celebrate arm in arm in the middle of the pitch, and quickly joined by all the festival participants, it was difficult to tell who the champion was.
Everyone was winner at the first ever Football for Hope Festival - the start of things to come.