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An experience like a World Cup for the U16s
An experience like a World Cup for the U16s

The Yellows lived their experience in the United Arab Emirates like a World Cup

“We lived it like a World Cup”. This is how Villarreal U16s (Cadete A) coach, Jon Errasti, explains his team’s experience at the Al Ain U16 International Tournament in the United Arab Emirates. Beyond the excellent sporting results, this competition was a new and interesting experience for the Submarine’s promising young players.

The team had never before faced such a long journey, practically 24 hours. “We left Vila-real on 31st March at 3 in the morning to catch the bus to Barcelona. The flight from Barcelona to Abu Dhabi took about six-and-a-half hours and there we had a lot of time to spend with the boys beyond training. Then we had two hours to Al Ain, the city where we were staying. Counting the two-hour time difference, we spent a whole day travelling,” explains Errasti about the trip to the Arabian Peninsula.

However, a few of the boys did have a similar experience in the past when they played in another of the international benchmark tournaments, according to the coach: “We had five boys who had played LaLiga Promises International in the same city. In fact, we had the hotel next to where they played.”

In addition, as Errasti says, “We went in the middle of Ramadan and during the day there were many restrictions, so the tournament was played at night, at eight, ten or twelve o’clock.” This was one of the differences compared to the regular competition in Spain of this six-team group in which in the event of a draw, an extra point was played in a penalty shoot-out.

Feeling like professionals

They were true professionals for those ten days. Or that’s how the players felt when they were in the Middle East. “On match days we did a bit of moving around in the hotel, gave some talks and set goals for the tournament. They also gave us a pitch if we asked for it. Al Ain has three stadiums and a sports city with nine pitches for the first team and the academy,” recalls the coach.

But let’s talk about football. The Yellows faced the best, such as Sporting Clube de Portugal, Inter Milan or Leeds United. And that was the driving force and something that undoubtedly enriched this top-level football experience.

“The day after we arrived, we had to play against Sporting Clube de Portugal, one of the best youth teams in the world, in a stadium that was empty, but we had a Villarreal crowd with parents who came to watch the tournament. We were 0-2 up and they equalised because every player that came off the bench was better than the previous one. We managed to win on penalties and the feeling was like winning the Champions League, with the boys very excited and celebrating in the dressing room like it was a final. In the context of the league, we didn’t have these experiences,” Errasti recounts with obvious emotion.

However, this was not the U16s’ best day in the UAE, according to their  coach, who highlights the match against the Italians: “The best game was against Inter. We won again on penalties. They were a great team with several U16 internationals and a couple of U17s. It was a very good game. We had done a pre-match exercise to remember where we came from and what we wanted to do, and everyone played very well.”

The match against the Nerazzurri was the penultimate match of the tournament and the following day two Yellow players from had to leave due to commitments with the Spanish U15 national team. “After that game, Polo and Vinatea left with the national team and missed the last game. Even so, Vinatea ended up being the top scorer of the tournament and was also given the best player award,” Errasti highlighted.

Villarreal were unbeaten going into the final match of the competition and had to face the home side, but it was not an easy match: “The Al Ain team was specific to the tournament, all from abroad, and they told us that they were competing against their U21 team,” explained the Basque coach about the organising team, to whom they lost by the smallest of margins (1-0).

From the World Cup to the routine

“The boys appreciate it because they are not used to travelling so far and not being with their team-mates in the hotel all day. In addition, we were in a position to win the tournament until the last game, so, despite it being a group, we experienced it like a World Cup.” This is the overall reflection of the coaching staff who travelled to the prestigious tournament, with Errasti explaining how “We went on the bus to a real football stadium. Most of them hadn’t done it before and it has given us a lot in terms of experience and at a competitive level.”

Focus on match days was sacred, but there was also time for leisure. The teenagers went sightseeing in the Arab country. “We saw the castle of Al Ain, the highest mountain in the Emirates and the camel market, and another day we went to Dubai. We had a great experience and took advantage of the opportunity to see everything”, Errasti explained.

Undoubtedly, this ‘World Cup’ was an unforgettable experience for the future stars of the Submarine, who on their return “felt they had a different footballing background” and are playing at a faster pace in the domestic league.