The world at their feet

The world at their feet

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Michael Schats will be playing in the Makabara Mini World Cup 2010. Photo: May Tse

As the Fifa World Cup gears up in South Africa, young footballers get to show their skills in Hong Kong's own 'global' contest, writes Mabel Sieh

It is every footballer's ambition to represent their country at a World Cup. Next week, hundreds of young local players will get a chance to compete in Hong Kong's very own mini version.

'When I first heard that there was going to be a Mini World Cup in Hong Kong, I thought that was pretty crazy. I was really excited,' says Michael Schats, a seventh grade student at the Australian International School Hong Kong (AISHK). His eyes still open wide as he remembers the moment.

The Makabara Mini World Cup 2010 will kick-off at 9am next Sunday in King's Park, Kowloon. Michael will be part of the Australia squad, and there will be teams representing England, Germany and all the famous football-playing nations.

Jointly organised by the South African Consulate-General and Home Affairs Bureau, it aims to promote junior football in Hong Kong and raise public awareness of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

'The Mini World Cup takes the shape of the Fifa 2010 World Cup South Africa, in that [32] qualifying countries will be represented. The groupings and regulations are that of the World cup ... Fifa sponsors are supporting this event as well,' says Primrose Zwedala, Consul (Political) of South African Consulate-General.

To prepare for the tournament, Michael has been training three days a week with his teammates.

'I think we have a good chance of winning, though I don't know what the other teams are like. I'll be disappointed if we lose, but I won't cry.'

After playing rugby like his father, Michael tried soccer for the first time when he was nine years old. Since then, the sport has become part of his life. This year, he has started playing for the Hong Kong Football Club.

'It makes me feel good when I'm kicking [the ball] or shooting a goal, although it's hard because there's a lot of running in the field. It seems easy for the first 10 minutes, after that, you get really tired and you don't want to run anymore,' says the 12-year-old. 'It's commitment that helps me through [the game]. I want to play better as I don't want to let my teammates down.'

The Australian-Consulate in Hong Kong has been instrumental in helping to bring together the Australian team for the tournament in Hong Kong.

Last year, the Football Federation Australia bid to host either the 2018 or 2022 Fifa World Cup .

Though young, Michael already knows he wants to be a professional and play for the Australian team Socceroos in the World Cup.

'Kids are all inspired by their heroes in sports. This is such a wonderful opportunity for them to do what they love,' says Alex Gibbs, the director of development and community relations at AISHK. 'Australian culture places a lot of importance on sports and health. And sports are very much connected to patriotism; it brings you back home.'

And Michael is ready to put in the effort needed to fulfil his World Cup ambitions.

'If I stick to my goal and stay focused and keep working on it, I might succeed, like my parents told me,' he says.

The Makabara Mini World Cup 2010 takes place between 9am and 4pm on June 6 in King's Park, Kowloon.

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