Highlighting grassroots football on a global level, three teams of American youngsters were given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show off their skills at the UEFA Champions Festival on Thursday as they played in a series of exhibition matches arranged by adidas in Munich.
Following on from the success of last year's games involving players from Argentina and Brazil, this time around the spotlight was turned onto the cream of youth football from the United States as they took on boys and girls teams representing FC Bayern München and SpVgg Unterhaching.
Boys' teams Eastside United and West Coast FC, and girls' side FC Elk Grove, earned their place in Munich following a two-day qualifying competition involving over 500 youngsters under the age of 16 in Portland, USA, last month. The winning teams of the Continental Young Champions tournament not only won the opportunity to play at the UEFA Champions Festival but also tickets for this week's two UEFA Champions League finals for men and women.
"We feel unbelievably privileged," said Elk Grove coach Kevin Slagle. "The girls have the opportunity to represent our club, our area and the whole country and to have a chance like this to be at the greatest football event there is, is a real honour for us.
"I hope the girls not only enjoy the games and being able to play out here today but that they really take in the idea of being in a different country, meeting other people and experiencing the culture. That's really the most important thing to get out of this, but to be part of this great event is a great honour for us."
The five-a-side competition, played amid bright sunshine at the picturesque setting of the festival mini-pitch by the Olympiapark lake, involved a total of four matches. For the last of these the teams included a mixture of players from each side, being joined by UEFA ambassador, and former Bayern star, Martín Dimichelis, who played one half for each of the teams.
"I hope that this inspires them not only in whether they choose to play football but whatever it is in their lives to get to the highest level like we are going to see here today because this is such a rare opportunity for them," said Slagle of California-based Elk Grove before the UEFA Women's Champions League final.
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