Bay team crowned SA street soccer champs

THE City Lads under-13 soccer team jetted into Port Elizabeth from Johannesburg yesterday after being crowned the Kia National Street Soccer champions.

The six players from New Brighton competed against teams from the Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State on Saturday.

The team had to have at least two girls in the squad and one had to be on the field at any time.

In the group stage, Lads beat Mariannhill (KZN) 3-1, Katlehong 2-0, Allanridge (Free State) 2-0 and in their only loss went down to tournament favourites Mitchells Plain (Western Province) 1-2. In the finals, they scored an easy 2-0 win over Mariannhill.

Andile Sibhoza, 13, won the award for top goal-scorer, while Nolitha Msila, also 13, was voted the best female player.

Nolitha, a Grade 6 pupil at Molefe Primary School, said: "It's like I'm still dreaming. I can't wait to go to Brazil."

The striker said she hoped to play for Banyana Banyana one day. "We are very proud of their achievement," New Brighton Football Association president Hlanganisile "Chippa" Hina said.

"Lads have certainly put us on the [soccer] map. We know they will make us proud once again when they compete in the world championships."

As national champions, Lads qualify for the world championships in Brazil. The date of the event has yet to be announced.

Since its inception in 2010, Kia Street Soccer, which was part of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, has grown to about 800 teams of six players taking part in the regional leagues.

The programme also uses soccer as a means of teaching children in the poorer communities life skills.

New Brighton Football Association coordinator Sibusiso Nqadeni said travelling to Gauteng had been the trip of a lifetime for the youngsters.

"These children had never been out of the city let alone in a plane before," he said.

Kia Motors SA chief executive Ray Levin said the competition had doubled in size to 40 regions this year.