National First XI football champions Sacred Heart College could claim to be the fifth best team in the World.
The Auckland powerhouse recently finished fifth at the International School Sport Federation World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic.
Sacred Heart was the first New Zealand team selected to participate in the tourney which featured 36 teams, 24 counties and 640 players.
Sacred Heart boasted the best goal differential and held runners up Germany to a 1-1 draw. Striker Matthew Palmer netted 11 goals in eight games to finish the tournament as leading scorer.
The event was won by Qatar who Sacred Heart lost to 0-1 in the quarter finals. It was a defeat that left a sour taste explains defender Jono Ansley.
“I don’t want to be too critical and come across as a bad sport, but the night before we had a dinner with all the teams who performed a cultural item. We chose to do the haka and were booed by the Qatar table. After their win they weren’t very gracious either. It was pretty disrespectful.”
Further investigation into Qatar reveals their cultural item was a promotional video for the Aspire Academy; a muti-million dollar government funded sporting Academy for youth in the Arab country. The program was arguably a central player in Qatar’s successfully corrupt bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.*
Why didn’t Sacred Heart just beat Qatar?
“We surprised ourselves by topping our group unbeaten. We were pumped for the quarters, but I think we got ahead of ourselves a wee bit. It was almost like we are from New Zealand and aren’t supposed to win these things.” Ansley reflects.
Sacred Heart bounced back hard to defeat Chile 2-1 and France 2-0 in the consolation playoffs.
In pool play Sacred Heart accounted for Armenia 4-0, Iran 3-0, Denmark 5-0 and China 4-0.
“We were exposed to many different styles of football. Armenia was quite different to Germany for example and that was the greatest challenge. The top eight teams would have been National contenders in New Zealand, but some of the others were a bit weaker than we thought.” Ansley surmises
Palmer is an outstanding all-round athlete with a bright future.
“Matthew is in the New Zealand Under-17’s and does athletics with me in the summer. He is a sprinter who competes in the 200 and 400-metres.” Ansley acclaims.
What did Ansley made of his own displays at the tournament?
“I wasn’t supposed to go, but I ended up playing every game so I guess I went alright.” Ansley answers.
Ansley has chosen to commit to running this winter in the hope of attaining a college scholarship in the US.
“It was such a tough choice, but I had to choose one or the other. I think running gives me better options education wise. I joined the First XI two weeks before the tournament. It will probably be my last games for them.” Ansley elaborates.
Cross Country is the immediate focus with the National Secondary School Championships staged next Saturday. Sacred Heart is the defending 6-man team champions.
“We have a good team this year. Jacob Holmes is our best runner and he will be aiming to medal in the individual race. I would like to as well, but I am a bit short of form after illness last year and the football.” Ansley says.
Sacred Heart has lost James Uhlenberg to St. Kenitgern College. Uhlenberg was the best runner in the squad last year.
Ansley was the National club Under-18 800m champion last year. After cross country Nationals he will be working towards the New Zealand Secondary Schools Track and Field Nationals which are being held in the Hawke’s Bay in December.
* Between 2007 and 2014 the Aspire program screened 3.5 million boys, mostly from developing countries in Africa. The best of them have been sent to live and train at either the main academy in Doha or the satellite academy in Senegal. They get room and board, a free education, and a monthly spending allowance, and their families get up to $US5,000 from Qatar. Aspire sent scouts to Thailand and Guatemala, countries with little footballing history, due to both countries having representation on the FIFA Executive Committee.
Does Qatar plan to assimilate academy players into their 2022 World Cup squad given their lenient policy on naturalisation of athletes for sports? It’s highly likely. The Qatari FA offered to pay Brazilian striker Ailton, then the top scorer in the German Bundesliga, $1million to come and play for Qatar in 2004, even though he had never set foot in the country. The move led to FIFA introducing emergency legislation banning naturalizations from taking place if there was no connection between the player and their prospective country. A school provides the connection needed to satisfy the FIFA laws.
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