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2019 Red Bull Neymar Jr 5 World Finals

SOUTH SIDE FC, a “sweat match” team of amateur footballers from south Trinidad, experienced what they described as a World Cup of sorts and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when they represented T&T recently at the 2019 Red Bull Neymar Jr 5 World Finals in Guaruja, Brazil.

There they were eliminated at the group stage, placing third out of four teams with one win and two defeats.

T&T (South Side FC) lost 1-0 to Slovakia in the first match, a match they thought they should have won, and were then effectively eliminated after a second defeat, 4-0 to France.

In spite of the opening two losses, the Rodney Nelson-captained team made the most of their final opportunity to make an impression as they bowed out of the tournament with an entertaining 5-0 whipping of Poland, a team that still progressed to the knock-out round, along with France.

Marlon “Waldo” Phillip set the tempo, scoring in the second minute against Poland, before Jeremiah Kerville made it 2-0 moments later, bagging his first goal en route to a hat-trick.

Denton Headley scored the team’s third, while Kerville added his second and third goals within a minute to round off the emphatic win.

In addition to Phillip, Headley, Kerville and Nelson, the other players who represented T&T were Javon Daniel, Lashawn Marcano and Tequan Rodriguez.

Although losing to Slovakia in the first match, T&T still finished above the European outfit on goal-difference as both ended group action on three points.

Kerville, in an interview with Newsday upon the team’s return to Trinidad, admitted that while he was disappointed with the opening result to Slovakia, the overall experience was “one of great treasure.”

“It has brought so much to my character,” said Kerville.

“Despite the unfortunate result, I’m still proud to say I represented my country with the team in this highly professional and well put together event.”

He added that the experience opened his eyes to the many opportunities afforded to amateur and professional footballers.

“From playing in T&T and winning the trip to go to Brazil to compete against different countries, seeing and meeting Neymar Jr, interacting with people from all over the world and with different styles of football play, was thoroughly a pleasure for me,” Kerville said.

Rodriguez agreed. “This experience changed my whole mindset as a young footballer. It was the best thing that actually happened to me football-wise. This whole experience from beginning to end, is one I would want any young player to encounter because it’s an eye opener on how beautiful this game is and how far the game can take you, even if it’s a five a side or big goal.

He said the brief but valuable experience gave him the chance to experience the many local and foreign cultures and languages, and to make new friends.

“Every young player would love to have such an opportunity and this wonderful experience,” said Rodriguez. In Brazil, the players battled it out at the Instituto Projecto Neymar Jr, in Praia Grande, a non-profit civil society organisation established by Neymar Jr and his family dedicated to social causes and serving children and their families.

They interacted with the Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain attacking star, who played in exhibition matches against world stars and a special match with his friends from Brazil. Phillip said he felt like he was at the World Cup, although he never actually attended one.

“The whole experience was wonderful, one of the best I have had so far in all my years of travelling and playing sports.

“It was such an unbelievable tournament, I honestly didn’t know it would have been such a big event. The environment and how the people were passionate about the games – it was on another level.

“Although we didn’t get the results we wanted, I still enjoyed every moment of the tournament, being with the group, enjoying Brazil together, competing and coming together as a team.” They stayed at Hotel Sofitel Jequitimar Guaruja, a luxury hotel in the coastal town near Sao Paulo during their six-day stay. There were over 100,000 players from over 40 countries competing in the tournament, which simultaneously featured a similar women’s competition.

South Side FC participated in the T&T national qualifiers, which comprised 101 teams and 707 players, in which they played to a goal-less draw and won their four other matches without conceding a goal.

T&T and Jamaica were the only two countries to represent the English-speaking Caribbean in the competition, doing so for the first time.