Six years after British International School, Phuket teamed up with legendary Brazilian football club Cruzeiro Esporte Clube to create the youth academy here in Phuket, the seeds are bearing fruit with alumni from the academy now heading to European clubs and a haul of medal and trophies for the junior teams.
“So far I think we are really happy with the overall development of the program.,” said Jonathas Candido, the Head Coach of the BISP Cruzeiro Academy, who sent their U14 and U19 Boys teams to the IBERCUP in June.
The IBERCUP is a top-tier competition that takes place every year in Spain and Portugal attracting a number of youth teams and professional clubs in Europe.
The U14 Boys team, led by academy assistant coach Victor Alberice de Oliveira Rodrigues, walked away with an improbable championship title, despite a rocky start.
The competition, which took place in Marbella, Spain, kicked-off with a round-robin group format. The U14 BISP Cruzeiro team started the tournament with three straight losses, including a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of CDS Alberto Magno. The team finished 4th in the group, and qualified for the playoffs.
That's when things got interesting.
A change in strategy saw the U14 BISP Cruzeiro squad win their first quarterfinal 1-0. In the semi-final, they went up against CD Estepona, but after a 1-1 draw, the BISP Cruzeiro team pulled away with a victory on penalties 4-3.
In the final, it was another rematch – this time against CDS Alberto Magno – a team linked with La Liga side Sevilla and who beat BISP Cruzeiro 4-1 in the group stage.
“It was a big stadium, lots of fans, so we could see that all the boys were a bit nervous before the games, they never faced that in their lives. It's nice to hear the Thailand national anthem playing – it was such a great atmosphere,” Candido said.
With newly found confidence, the U14 BISP Cruzeiro managed squeak out another 4-3 penalties victory.
“It was really nice to see how the kids hit the next level during the playoff games. From the first group game to the last, it was a completely different attitude,” said coach Oliveira, who admitted that the transition from playing their usual 7-a-side style – a requirement for the U14 teams in Asia – to playing an 11-a-side format in the tournament was a big adjustment for the team.
“That transition is a challenge, we try to make it as smooth as possible. But the team plays a lot of 7-a-side in Asia, all the international school events are 7-a-side, so it's hard to even find competitions for that age group,” added Candido.
Academy coaches had little time to celebrate, as they flew over to Estoril, Portugal for the squad's U19 team to take part in the IBERCUP in early July – a team made up of mostly 17 year-olds and included 14-year-old Thailand national team standout Siam Yapp.
“There were lower expectations, we wanted them to get the experience, but the results were up and down in the group stage,” Candido said.
After winning three games, the team qualified for the playoffs. During the quarterfinals, the U19 squad beat Ultimate Madrid on penalties, before moving on to dominate professional Portuguese club GD Estoril Praia 3-1.
During the finals, U19 BISP Cruzeiro, coached by assistant Eder Diniz, took on a familiar foe in Promesas Del Norte – a Spanish youth team that beat them 3-0 in the group stage.
“I think that was the hardest part for all boys, to cope with the physical challenge. It's difficult for a 14-year-old to go up against a 19-year-old [opponent]. Most of the playing time [Promesas] had possession,” Candido said.
Still, U19 BISP Cruzeiro managed to score first.
But Promesas tied it up shortly after the break, and then won it in the last minute of the match, taking the U19 IBERCUP title 2-1.
The results are a far cry from their first outing in the IBERCUP back in 2015, when Candido took his squad to survey the level of competition of European youth clubs.
“In that time, we didn't see the ball, just playing defense the whole time. The kids were shocked with the level, but it's good for them to see the reality of football, to get used to it,” he said.
“I'm extremely proud of the team, it's a great experience and I think they will have a great season based on what they show in Europe.”