“We want to be like Édouard Mendy or Sadio Mané in Sénégal.”
So smiled Gabriel Bienqinch as he prepares to captain the boys’ team representing Senegal at the inaugural Africa Schools Champions Cup in Kinshasa. As his compatriots celebrate success in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this month, so the youngsters have inspiration also to achieve on the first Pan-African stage for schools.
“I am so happy to be here in Kinshasa,” adds Clarisse Mwamini Minyi, who leads the girls’ team from Congo DR on home soil. “We’re here to win the trophy. By the grace of God, we know we can do it. We believe in ourselves.
That pride was also reflected in the words of Mushagalusa Bahara Faradja, who oversaw the boys’ team from Congo DR after earning that right through a national championship, is an experience accentuated by being the host nation.
“We firstly thank the Republic, the DRC, for requesting to have this competition organised in our country,” Faradja said. “We want schools to be represented. These children will be educated and, as they are still young talents and they will have to show their talents in front of all of Africa.”
There was a carnival atmosphere at the airport as many of the youngsters celebrated travelling abroad for the first time. For Morocco girls’ coach Yassmine Sioui, the tournament is the realisation of a long-standing dream.
“It will help female players improve their performance and get rid of this fear they have to play and be part of teams.” Sioui said. “I am happy that they decided to organise this first championship and that we are participating. I’ve actually been playing football since I was a child. I always considered it to be like any other sport and never thought that girls shouldn’t play.”
Social development sessions will come ahead of the two-day tournament in Kinshasa. FIFA Legends Khalilou Fadiga and Hérita Ilunga helped to map out the tournament for boys and girls at the draw. Girls tournament: Group A: DR Congo, Morocco, South Africa. Group B: Senegal, Benin, Ethiopia. Boys tournament: Group C: Senegal, Benin, Ethiopia. Group D: South Africa, Morocco, Senegal.