In the middle of 50,000 singing and celebrating soccer players, 1,567 teams and 72 countries, stood five Williams Lake soccer products.
The scene — the opening ceremonies of the Gothia Cup, the World Youth Cup of Soccer, in Gothenburg, Sweden from July 15-21.
The group of players — Vanessa Hansen, Isabella Ruby, Meagan Cook, Laura Smylie and Emily Robertson — were selected as part of European Football School head coach Saibo Talic’s teams to play in the tournament. The EFS is a soccer school of excellence based out of Vancouver.
“Some of these kids [from Williams Lake] have been coming to Vancouver over the years to practice with my team every month,” Talic said. “I really appreciate them coming 500 kilometres and staying and playing over the weekend and this is just kind of a reward for the players and the parents.”
The quintet, prior to the Gothia Cup, also toured Germany and Denmark, playing matches against both countries’ provincial clubs. The group also caught the semi-final matchup between the U.S. and France at the Women’s World Cup of Soccer while in Germany, one of the trip’s highlights for everyone.
Smylie, who plays for Thompson Rivers University, and Robertson, who attends the Universtiy of Calgary, played for Talic’s EFS U18/19 team while Ruby, Hansen and Cook competed for his EFS U17 team.
Ruby and Cook are both going into Grade 12 at Williams Lake secondary, while Hansen is heading into her Grade 11 year at Columneetza secondary.
“This was an incredible opportunity for us five small-town kids from Williams Lake to play high level soccer in Europe,” Ruby said.
“The European teams were very skilled, and physically intense in Germany and Sweden.”
The EFS U17 team’s first game was against Moheds SK, where they earned a 2-0 win. Next, the team played to a 2-2 tie with Älvsjö AIK FF 2 before falling 1-0 to Tölö IF on the third day of the tournament.
Unfortunately for the EFS Team, they were eliminated by Scottish United after a 13-round shootout on the fourth day of the tournament.
“I think our team expected to go a little further but, in the end, we all knew we put our best on the field,” Hansen said.
“I personally felt like I progressed throughout the tournament. Playing at a higher calibre, on a new team and in a new position took some time getting used to.”
Cook added getting to meet new people was one of her highlights.
“Meeting new people [was great],” Cook said. “Not only getting to know my amazing team but other players from around the world. What made the trip the best though was my teammates. I got along with them all so quickly. They were so welcoming.”
The EFS U19 Team met IFK Fjärås in its first game, losing 1-0. Next, they played to a 2-2 tie with Nardo, before falling 1-0 to IFK Nyköping on the third day of tournament play.
On day four, EFS won a 10-0 blowout against SSV Plockhorst, before being eliminated later in the day, 5-4, by Villastadens, IF.
Robertson, playing on the U19 team, said her expectations of the tournament were far exceeded.
“I expected the tournament to be big, but it was definitely bigger than I though,” Robertson said. “The tournament was run extremely well and everything was completely organized.
“The opening ceremonies were the best part and it was cool to see how many different countries come together to participate in the tournament.”
She added both the U17 and U19 teams were very competitive, and could have advanced further.
“EFS played well in all our games,” she said. “We could hold our own against the other teams. When we lost it was just by one goal.”
All of the girls said they want to thank their coaches, teammates and everyone who helped give them this opportunity to see the world and meet new people.
“I would like to give special thanks and my sincere appreciation to EFS head coach Saibo Talic, EFS administrator Chris Broatch, the parents and all of my EFS teammates for making this trip such an amazing experience,” Ruby said.