“I’m not a goalkeeper but we’ve all been taking turns, you see,” said Chilean Cristian Aguilar who, despite his lack of experience between the sticks, is sporting a cap not unlike that worn by the legendary Oliver Kahn. Such a selfless attitude is a fine illustration of the ideals of togetherness and Fair Play that reign at the Football For Hope festival, currently being held in the neighbourhood of Alexandra near Johannesburg.
Aguilar’s team, the Red Chilena de Fútbol Callejero (Chilean Street Football Network), had just beaten the Red Paraguaya de Partidi (Paraguayan Partidi Network) 1-0 thanks to a fine strike into the top corner by Daniel Arce. “Being here is what matters. It’s not just about taking part, it’s about sharing too,” said Arce’s team-mate Elizabeth Salinas.
“Here you learn the value of teamwork and hard graft,” chipped in another Chilean, Claudio Cerda, whose performances out on the pitch were no far cry from those of her idol, national-team star Alexis Sanchez.
And despite the teams’ determination to do their best, everyone involved treats each encounter like the game that it is. What is more, the sides get together minutes before kick-off to discuss the rules to be used during the game, the players take the field hand-in-hand, they call their own fouls and are quick to congratulate each other whatever the final result.
The watching spectators, most of whom hail from ‘Alex’, also got into the spirit of the occasion by cheering on all the teams equally, whatever their background. And where else might you see a side such as Rwandan outfit Esperance, which included both Hutus and Tutsis, or The Peace Team’s blend of both Israelis and Palestinians supporting each other and enjoying the beautiful game?
Not only have the participants thrived out on the pitch, they have also savoured the opportunity to witness 2010 FIFA World Cup™ action first-hand. In the case of the Chilean team, it was the incident-packed quarter-final encounter between Uruguay and Ghana in Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium . “It had everything! Extra time, penalties and plenty of emotion – everything you could want from a game,” recalled Aguilar and Co.
And lastly, are the Red Chilena de Fútbol Callejero happy with how Marcelo Bielsa’s charges performed at South Africa 2010? “Partly yes and partly no, because if Chile were still in the tournament then we wouldn’t be getting as much attention,” said Fabian Zambelli, who was given the final word on La Roja’s impressive run to the Round of 16. “We’re here playing for their honour too, though of course we’re upset they’re not still involved. We’re very proud of how they played.”