The event is set to be staged from 27 July – 5 August, where some of the best young talent from around the globe will descend on the KwaZulu-Natal province with the dream of being crowned champions.
The tournament has already lived up to its motto of ‘Where Stars are Born’, having helped to develop some of the brightest young prospects in world football, such as Bayern Munich’s Portugal international Renato Sanches, who also won the European Championships with his country in 2016.
Not forgetting South Africa’s own Thabo Cele, who played for the KwaZulu-Natal Academy in the 2015 Durban Under-19 International Football Tournament and has recently signed with Portuguese giants Benfica, setting him on the path to a stellar professional career. He is currently in South Korea with the U-20 national team preparing for the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Aside from regulars, the South Africa Under-19 side, who were losing finalists in 2016, and the KwaZulu-Natal Academy, six other teams have been invited from around the world to take part in the 10-day event.
Brazilian club Flamengo will be making their first appearance and they bring with them a rich history that includes a domestic Serie A title in 2009. Some of the greatest players the world has seen have turned out for the club in the past, including Zico, Ronaldinho, Babeto and Romario.
Portuguese giants Benfica return for a second shot at the title after losing out to Brazilian side Santos in the inaugural final in 2014. They are the reigning Portuguese champions and have a special connection to Africa through past players born in Angola and Mozambique, not least of all club legend Eusebio.
Spanish side Deportivo de La Coruña make their debut in Durban and arrive with a proud 111-year history that saw them crowned La Liga champions in the 1999/00 season. Joan Capdevila, Juan Carlos Valerón and Diego Tristán are just some of the top Spain internationals to have donned the colours of the club. Recently, they beat Barcelona 2-1 in a league match.
The famed academy of Ivorian side ASEC Mimosas will also feature this year and it is highly likely that we will be seeing future Ivory Coast internationals on display. The club has brought through great names such as Gervinho, Yaya Touré, Boubacar Barry, Kolo Touré, Didier Zokora, Siaka Tiéné and Aruna Dindane.
Mimosas’s director general, Benoît You said he is thrilled with the inclusion of his side in this year’s tournament and believes the experience will positively impact his players in the long run.
“We are very happy to participate at the Durban U-19 tournament for the first time in 2017. It is very important for our players to play this kind of competitions for their individual development as players.
“The Durban U-19 tournament is also becoming one of the best youth tournaments in the continent and we will do our best to show that ASEC Mimosas is still one of the best club.”
The 2014/15 Denmark champions FC Midtjylland will bring some Scandinavian flavour as the newest club in the competition, having only been formed in 1999. They have however become regular competitors in UEFA club competitions and have in the recent past beaten both Manchester clubs, United and City, and have built a reputation in Denmark for unearthing exciting young talent.
South African Premier Soccer League side Maritzburg United will complete the field of eight teams, making the short journey from their Pietermaritzburg base to Durban. They have enjoyed an excellent season in the domestic arena with the likes of academy product Bandile Shandu displaying excellent talent in the midfield.
The eight sides will be drawn into two pools each containing four clubs, who will play one another on a round-robin basis. The top two sides in each group then advance to the semifinals.
Group A will this year be staged at the King Zwelithini Stadium in Umlazi, while Group B will be played at the Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium in Clermont. The magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium, a venue during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, will host the semi-finals, before the decider and third-place play-offs moves to back to King Zwelithini.
Aside from the Santos victory in 2014, English club Arsenal has claimed the last two titles in 2015 and 2016, but this year we are assured of a new winner.
The mayor of eThekwini Municipality Zandile Gumede said: “We have no doubt that the 2017 leg of the tournament will continue providing us with a platform to make what seems impossible, possible. When we took this bold and an unprecedented decision to support the project three years ago, our objective was to provide opportunities for KZN-based players to showcase their skills on an international platform created by the tournament, thus opening doors for them to earn a living out of football in future.”
Since inception, the event has been organised by Hoy Park Management and sponsored by, mainly, the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government, the eThekwini Municipality as well as the 2010 FIFA World Cup Legacy Trust.