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YOUNG footballers in Bahrain came back from a regional tournament carrying the silverware and the praises for the performances ringing in their ears from a former international superstar.
Juventus Academy Bahrain’s U10 captain Faris Saleh produced a match-winning performance in the final to help his side beat hosts Kuwait in an exciting seven-a-side cup final and avoid a penalty shoot-out.
Retired Dutch international Edgar Davids, whose illustrious career began with Ajax, winning several domestic and international titles, was present. He subsequently played in Italy for Milan, and later enjoyed a successful spell with Juventus, before joining Spanish giants Barcelona.
“Saleh had a great tournament and a stand-out performance in the final that won the game,” said proud academy head coach Andrew Collins. “Not only this, Edgar Davids pulled him to one side after the game to say how well he had done!”
Bahrain went a goal up early in the final and appeared comfortable until Kuwait tucked in a last minute equaliser. However, from the kick-off Saleh received the ball, beat four players and squared it into the box for Ayad Aladhamy to slot home the winner with the last kick of the game.
There are eight Juventus academies vying for glory at different age levels - Bahrain, Oman, Saudi, Kuwait, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Eygpt and Tunisia. There will be an U12 event hosted in Dubai to follow, U8 in Oman, U14 in Abu Dhabi and finally an U16 tournament in Bahrain. Wherever a nation finishes it receives a certain number of points, with them all collected at the end of the series and a winning academy crowned.
With a name like Saleh, it’s not surprising the young Bahraini/English player is making a name for himself on the football pitch, with his own twist on the surname as Liverpool’s star Mo spells his with an ‘ah’ at the end. The modest 10-year-old St Christopher’s School pupil and central midfielder, said: “We did really well and showed great determination as a team.
“It was brilliant to meet Edgar Davids and have a chat with him. He congratulated me on our win and I was very happy he was there to see it. I want to be a professional footballer when I’m older and will work really hard for it to happen.”
The cup winning squad also starred goalkeepers William Brown and Leo Williamson and outfield players Mohammed Mirza, Sofiane Alahmed, Pedro Farias, Hamza Najeeb, Yousif Ayoob, Ayad Aladhamy and Yanis Alili. Collins was joined on the touchline by fellow coach Jordan Stephens.
Juventus Academy Bahrain, based in Saar, also took the Plate Final trophy but this time the team needed nail-biting penalty shootout success to pick up the prize. Collins added: “We’re really proud of the boys not losing a game and conceding only two goals all weekend in normal play.”
In a similar story to the cup final, Bahrain took an early lead but Oman clawed back to equalise with only minutes to go. Bahrain won 5-4 on penalties with keeper Sari Al Zubi saving a spot kick.
The squad was also made up of Sterling Fraser, Andre Dutta, Bader Qarooni,
Ali Aljasim, Faisal Ali, Mohammed Kanoo, Nemer Abdulamer, Ahmed Alkhan and Abdulaziz Alkhan. Captain Qarooni said: “It was a great feeling. We were so excited to win.”
Davids was well known for wearing protective glasses on the field. This followed surgery in his right eye caused by glaucoma, which developed in 1995.
He earned the nicknamed The Pitbull during his playing career for his tenacious performances in central midfield and even stepped forward to film the penalty action for the academies.