“This is the world cup for the invisibles, but you will be seen.”
That was the message from John Wroe at today’s opening ceremony in Oxygen Park as he issued a special welcome to girls and women from around the world on International Day of the Girl Child. On a day which seeks to promote gender equality across the globe, the large crowd was left under no illusions that the Street Child World Cup was an event for all.
It was then fitting, perhaps, that the first goal of the tournament came from the girls’ match on pitch 2, with Aya putting Palestine 1-0 up against the hosts, Qatar. Oxygen Park had been packed well before kick off, with players and supporters alike brimming with anticipation for the action to begin.
On the boys’ pitch, Burundi ran out 2-0 winners against Qatar, while Aya and her Palestine team went on to win 2-1. The early matches were being played with immense ferocity and energy, with all sides desperate to make a good impression on the swathes of supporters gathered down the sides of the pitches.
Tanzania, Uganda, Egypt and Pakistan all looked very impressive in the boys’ tournament, with Peru and USA securing convincing wins in the girls’ competition. Bangladesh and Mexico played out a rare goalless draw on pitch 2 as the goals continued to fly in elsewhere.
The arrival of darkness over Oxygen Park only added to the sense of theatre and occasion – the park’s imposing floodlights illuminating the pitches and the action below. Before each match the relevant national anthems were played, and the sense of pride on the faces of the players as they sang the words and held up their country’s flag was tangible.
The friendly atmosphere of the Street Child World Cup was very much still in place, but it was clear what the games meant to the players. They were all here to win and the vast majority of matches were fiercely competitive. The mutual respect displayed during the post-match handshakes was a testament to the spirit of the event.
The stifling humidity did little to stem the intensity of the games, as Syria and Uganda played out a particularly physical and pulsating 1-1 draw in the boys’ tournament. On the girls’ side, Brazil continued their customary dominance, sweeping aside Indonesia and then Qatar, while USA comfortably defeated Mexico.
Back on pitch 1 in the boys’ event, Nepal bounced back from their drubbing at the hands of Uganda to secure a hard-fought draw versus Mauritius, while Egypt scored a dramatic late winner against India, finally breaking down their opposition in what was a superb rear-guard effort. This was their second win from two games, having beaten England earlier on.
As far as the spectacle was concerned, probably the highlight of the evening was the Sudan versus Bosnia game on pitch 1. A huge, vociferous Sudanese support had turned out to cheer on their team, creating a cacophony of noise on the touchline. Unfortunately for them, their team was edged out 1-0 by a committed Bosnia side, as Brazil fought hard to defeat Colombia after a tense game on the adjacent pitch.
Tonight’s action was everything that fans of the Street Child World Cup wanted it to be. Respectful but electric, and full of exciting football. We’ll be back tomorrow to find out which sides will make it through to Finals Day on Saturday.