A group of young Brazilians laugh and joke as they try to make themselves understood to their Swedish colleagues, while watching teams from Turkey and Portugal do battle on the adjoining pitch.
That scene was a fairly typical one this week at the Buchlern sports complex in Zurich, as it hosted the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup, a truly international festival of football, albeit one with a decidedly Swiss flavour on this its 77th staging.
Following Brazilian club Atletico Paranaense’s win last year, the trophy returned home this time around, though it was not five-time champions FC Zurich – the 2012 and 2013 winners – who claimed it but their domestic rivals FC Luzern.
The new champions were crowned thanks to Luka Sliskovic’s first-half penalty and a superb second-half display by their goalkeeper Raphael Zbinden, who inspired his club to their first Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup triumph in 19 attempts.
“The fact that we’ve had two Swiss teams in the finals is another indication of just how much good work is being carried out at grassroots level here,” said FC Luzern coach Gerardo Seoane, in conversation with FIFA.com.
“I’m very pleased with the result, but you always have to bear in mind that when you’re working with youngsters it’s the training that’s the most important thing,” added Seoane, who began and ended his long playing career with the club.
“I was lucky enough to be able to play the game for 15 years and I’m delighted to be here helping the club that gave me that opportunity, passing on my experience and giving youngsters the chance to learn about football and life.”
That educational aspect is a key facet of the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup, and did not go unnoticed by FIFA President Blatter, one of more than 7,000 people who turned up to watch the final day of the tournament on Thursday.
“Seeing youth football attract so much interest makes me a happy president,” said Blatter. “The games are being played in a sporting manner and the standard is high. It’s a celebration of football.”
This year’s visiting teams failed to match expectations, with the exception of Benfica, who ended the tournament unbeaten but had to be content with third place.
Despite top-scoring with nine goals in the first phase along with FC Zurich, the Portuguese side finished two points adrift of FC Luzern in Group B, which left them to fight it out with Bursaspor of Turkey for third place. Benfica clinched a top-three finish thanks to a 2-1 win, with striker Fabio Novo scoring his fifth goal in as many games.
Speaking afterwards Encarnados coach Jorge Cordeiro told FIFA.com of his satisfaction at the team’s performance and at the structure of the event.
“Things have really changed for the better,” said the former player, who was on the pitch when the Lisbon club won the 1996 edition. “It’s got a whole new dimension today. It’s becoming more and more of an international tournament and the atmosphere is increasingly what you’d expect of an event like this: family-oriented and packed with children watching the games. It’s a lovely competition.”
Tournament awards and standings
adidas Golden Ball: Remo Arnold (FC Luzern)
adidas Golden Glove: Raphael Zbinden (FC Luzern)
FIFA Fair Play award: Feyenoord
Champions: FC Luzern (SUI)
Runners up: FC Zurich (SUI)
Third place: Benfica (POR)
Fourth place: Bursaspor (TUR)
Fifth place: Feyenoord (NED)
Sixth place: Grasshopper Club (SUI)
Seventh place: Atletico Paranaense (BRA)
Eighth place: IFK Goteborg (SWE)
Ninth place: Werder Bremen (GER)
Tenth place: FC Blue Stars (SUI)