The only South American side in the last four of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, Oscar Tabarez's Uruguay are not the only representatives of their country enjoying themselves in the Rainbow Nation. Two days before the South Americans' semi-final clash with the Netherlands, a team of youngsters from Uruguay opened the Football for Hope Festival 2010 with a victory over their hosts, Team Alexandra.
The match was a curtain-raiser for the inaugural festival, which takes place in the Alexandra township in Johannesburg from 4-10 July. The unique five-a-side football competition, organised by FIFA, streetfootballworld, the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa and the City of Johannesburg, features 32 mixed teams of boys and girls from disadvantaged communities around the world.
The Football for Hope Festival got off to an exceptional start. Alexandra Township's 3Square Stadium provided the perfect setting for the opening ceremony, where hundreds of youngsters gave a warm welcome to over 360 young players, coaches and youth leaders representing grassroots organisations from as far afield as Tahiti and the United Kingdom.
Performances by some prominent artists added to the sense of occasion. First on to the stage was JR, a rising star of South African music, who performed alongside the hip-hop act Skwatta Camp. Danny K and Kabelo Mabalane from the kwaito outfit then performed a song together, joined by three local group dance groups.
Next it was the turn of FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and South Africa President Jacob Zuma to take the stage. The FIFA President said: "It is a great day, with the Football for Hope Festival in connection with the FIFA World Cup here in South Africa. The Festival embraces not only those from the host nation, African continent, but people from the whole world."
The FIFA President stressed the educational function of the event, saying: "Football is based on discipline and respect, a game played in good spirit. Being a school of life, football is also an education which is not only seen in school but throughout life. That is why the Football for Hope Festival can bring together all of football's qualities and ethics to disseminate hope through the game and to promote the health of our youth."
President Zuma said the young people taking part would gain precious lessons from the week ahead. "Football is more than just football, it is something beyond. The Football for Hope Festival provides the participants with a chance to experience and learn – to learn to be a happy winner and to accept defeat graciously. I wish I were a young man who could compete in this wonderful competition." The two presidents then jointly declared the festival open.
The first match concluded with a victory for Uruguay – a team comprising two organisations from the country's National Street Football League – over Team Alexander. Over the PA system, the announcer joked that "history repeated itself" – a reference to South Africa's defeat by Uruguay in the FIFA World Cup group stage.
Leonardo Correa headed the Uruguayans' first goal before Pamela Lemos added the second. A delighted Leonardo said after the 12 minute-long contest: "A couple of days ago I watched from the stands when my team won the penalty shoot-out over Ghana. I am happy we are following in their steps."
For the 16-year-old from a one-parent family, the Football For Hope project had provided him with the chance to enjoy this special adventure. "I was enrolled into this team two years ago and I am so happy to have this chance to play with young people of my age from across the world, making new friends everyday and enjoy the game itself," he said.
Despite losing the opening game, Team Alexandra player Victoria Masonga was in no way dismayed. "We lost the game but we still came away with something," said the 17-year-old from Alexandra High School, who featured prominently for her side in a game played, like all at the festival, without a referee. "We learned how to solve disagreements on the pitch through communication. This is an important skill I can pass on to the younger kids from our community."