Just as the UEFA Champions League final will have a Latin American flavour with FC Barcelona's Argentinian international Lionel Messi coming up against Manchester United FC's Mexico striker Javier Hernández, so too did the UEFA Champions Festival when young teams from Argentina and Brazil tackled their Chelsea FC counterparts in an exhibition event.
An Under-14 team from Argentina and a U16 side from Brazil took part in the adidas-sponsored five-a-side competition in London's Hyde Park on Wednesday, their prize for making it through an arduous qualification process in their homelands involving more than 300 children aged between 12 and 16.
The regional UEFA Young Champions qualifying events had also featured teams from Mexico, with matches played simultaneously in the three countries and a single winner in each age group defined by a unique scoring system. The reward for the winners was a UEFA Champions League final experience that not only comprised participation in the exhibition at Hyde Park but also tickets to the showpiece match at Wembley on Saturday.
Taking place during Wednesday's UEFA Grassroots Day activities at the festival site, two games were staged on the main mini-pitch between the South American sides and Chelsea's U13s and U15s. Then a final match was played in which the teams swapped players to make up mixed lineups. The event ended with prizes being given to the players by UEFA grassroots ambassadors Jay-Jay Okocha and John Collins.
"They enjoyed their afternoon out," Chelsea youth development officer Bob Osborn told UEFA.com after victories for both of his teams. "It's different, they were playing against either a Brazilian or an Argentinian team so it's different to their regular season.
"We're very pleased to be invited to play because we're a good academy. I've been in the academy for a long time but our skill level, both as a team and as individuals, has got a lot better and we feel we're a lot nearer the Brazilians and Argentinians now with our skill. Just enjoying it is the most important thing, the result is irrelevant."
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