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Five Things we Learned from the 2022 Mina Cup

13:57 BST 14/04/2022
Mina Cup
An exciting tournament that was held in the UAE

The three-day festival of grassroots football that is the inaugural Mina Cup has come to an end on Monday with champions crowned in U12, U14, U16 and U18 age groups, but for the hundreds of youngsters who took to the pitches at JA Hotels and Resorts, this was a dream journey; one that will have a lasting impact on each and every one of them no matter where their careers take them next.

From Mexico to Austria, India to England and with a collection of the UAE’s finest academy teams, this was a true celebration of youth football and the legacy it can create. Now that the party is over, we have had time to reflect on five things that we have learned from the first edition of the Mina Cup.

Indian football is on the rise

For several years now, we have been told India will be the future rising superpower in global football, but as years passed by, the wait continued as the side nicknamed the Blue Tigers came nowhere near reaching the World Cup or competing in the latter stages of the Asian Cup, and while that aim might still be a work in progress, what we saw in the Mina Cup suggests there is plenty of reason for optimism.

When the line-up for the U12 groups at the Mina Cup was unveiled, all eyes were on the likes of Barcelona Academy, La Liga HPC Academy and Manchester City Academy, but it was the unfancied Minerva Academy from the far north of India that took the tournament by storm.

Not only did the boys from Punjab region top their group, but they did so emphatically, winning all three games, scoring 12 goals and conceding none. A 5-0 thrashing of Barcelona Academy was the highlight.

Dubai City FC were dispatched in the semi-finals and it was a rematch with La Liga HPC in the final, and indeed Minerva Academy repeated their win to march unopposed to the podium, lifting the trophy with absolute perfection, winning all games, scoring 19 goals in total and not conceding a single goal. And if you are wondering about a name to watch for the future, look no further than Malemngamba Thiyam who walked away with both the U12 Player of the Tournament award and the top scorer award, having bagged 12 of his side’s 19. A truly inspiring display for the Indian side on their first-ever international competition.

Football can be cruel as Manchester City found out

If any team can argue they came close to the level of dominance Minerva Academy delivered in U12s, it is Manchester City Football Schools Abu Dhabi, but somehow, they were not present on the opposite side to face the Indians at the final of the competition.

Such is the cruelty of football as the young Citizens learned over the course of the three days. Like Minerva, they topped their group with the full nine points, and like them, they did not concede a single goal, scoring ten goals in the process.

Awaiting them in the semi-finals were Group 2 runners-up La Liga Academy HPC, and once more Manchester City did not concede all game, but alas, it was not enough for them as they came out second best in penalty shootout, missing out on the chance to compete in the final against Minerva Academy.

They might not have reached the final, but the Manchester City Football Schools youngsters have every reason to be optimistic about their future, and they will hope to be back to do even better in future editions of the Mina Cup.

Fiery, organized Mexican football on display

There was a certain air of excitement surrounding Pumas UNAM, the side that has travelled furthest to compete at the Mina Cup.

The U14s of one of Mexico’s most popular clubs brought to the table more than their impressive performances throughout the competition; they also added to the mix of footballing cultures on display at the JA Hotels and Resorts pitches with their perfect blend of fire and flair.

At the end it was a roaring success for the side from Mexico City. A group that contained Wolverhampton Wanderers as well as local sides Dubai City FC and Fursan Hispania was topped in style by Pumas UNAM who won all three of their games.

The Auriazules then took on Austrian side Sturm Graz in the semi-finals, successfully navigating them with a 2-0 win before a rematch in the final against Dubai City FC ended in a 2-0 victory for the Mexicans who deservedly lifted the U14s trophy.

Mexican talents left their mark in Dubai with Santiago Vigueras winning the U14 Player of the Tournament award, while his teammates Antonio Herrera and Humberto Mancilla finished as joint top scorers of this age group.

Dubai City FC did well to represent the host city

The Mina Cup proudly welcomed teams from all around the planet, putting their skills on display and competing for the titles across the four age groups, but local boys Dubai City FC proved they were no pushovers, doing well to represent the host city in three of the four age groups.

The boys in red and white finished second in their U12s group, reaching the semi-finals where they were edged by eventual champions Minerva Academy.

Their finest performance, however, came in the U14 age group where they also finished runners-up in the group, pipping Fursan Hispania and Wolverhampton Wanderers to the final four. Indonesia’s Bhayangkara FC were the next opponents, and they too were successfully beaten 6-5 on penalty shootouts as Dubai City FC booked their place in the final.

At the end, Mexican powerhouse Pumas UNAM proved a mountain too high to climb but the Dubai youngsters leave the Mina Cup with their heads held high, having competed against top teams and made a name for themselves.

Win or lose, kids from across the planet leave with lasting memories

Whether they return home with medals around their necks or with the experience of having learned from teams of more experience than their own, every single player who competed at the inaugural Mina Cup will have created memories that will last a lifetime.

Travelling from places as far as Mexico, Tanzania, Austria and India, the Mina Cup offered youngsters across the four age groups the opportunity to experience different cultures, both on and off the pitch, to mix with other teams and learn of what life is like for their peers in other countries who are united by the dream of one day becoming top professional footballers.

The laughs shared, the joy of winning and the pain of defeat, the agony of leaving the pitch injured and the hope of reaching the finals. The Instagram accounts exchanged and the well wishes as they all departed for the last time, this will be the legacy of the Mina Cup in its inaugural edition, and this is what youth football is all about.