An Under-18s football team from Laos, one of the poorest countries on Earth, have been awarded a key trophy at the world’s largest youth football tournament.
The Laos football team, who are the first football team in the history of Laos to ever play in any European football tournament, have been awarded the Fair Play Cup, in recognition of their outstanding record for good sportsmanship, and having also reached the Under 18s B semi-finals, following many great victories, including those against teams from the United States (2-1), Brazil (5-0), Sweden (3-0), Hungary (2-0) and Scotland (3-2).
Laos is widely recognised as the most bombed country in the world, following blanket bombing by American forces during the Vietnam War. One in five children dies before the age of 5, many through malnutrition. Thousands more are also killed or injured by the tens of millions of unexploded bombs that remain scattered, undetected but live throughout the Laos countryside.
The Gothia Cup is recognised globally as the World Cup for Under 18s football, and this year involves 1,567 teams from 71 nations, and more than 4,500 games. Dennis Andersson, Chairman of the Gothia Cup presented the team with the award live on national TV at a closing ceremony broadcast from the 25,000-seater Gamla Ullevi stadium.
Gareth Carter, organiser of the trip, said, “We’re delighted to have been able to take this team from the jungles of Laos to the world’s biggest youth football tournament, see them play great football, beating teams that tower above them and who often benefit from infinitely better modern facilities. For them to be honoured in this way before they go back to Laos is fabulous.”
The team’s coach, Manophet Mouidouangdy, whose job was managing munition clearance in Laos, died tragically just before the tournament and the boys saw the tournament as an opportunity to play in his memory, as well as a historic moment for Laos, this being the first time Laos have had a team playing in Europe.
Laos’s official team name is the English Development School (EDS) Laos Football Club, which is based in Phonsavan, in North West Laos. This is the area of Laos most badly affected by the legacy of the Vietnam War. Between the ten years between 1964 and 1973 one B-52 bombload was dropped on the country every eight minutes, 24 hours a day.
Team captain, Xay Savard, aged 18, said, “It has been amazing to come to Europe and we are so very happy to win this award and to show the world how Laos people play football and how good we can play.”
Laos top goal scorer, Thai Yang, also aged 18, said, “I am very happy and very proud of my team and my country. I would like to thank the Swedish people, organisers and sponsors. I am honoured to be here.”
The Laos team had many new experiences on this historic trip. None of the team had ever even flown on an aeroplane before. None of them had ever even seen the sea, but on this trip got to swim in it for the first time. Nor had they ever played on a proper football pitch before as their home pitch is primarily used for cattle grazing.
The team were supported by the local Laos community, who brought them Laos food before and after every match. The football team were unable to eat any local or junk food in Gothenburg, as it made them sick every time. One Laos player commented, “I ate a beefburger for the first time here, and if I did that often I think I would change shape and be very unhealthy.”
A full length documentary feature film is being made of the team’s successful trip, which will be released worldwide in 2011. A trailer of the film is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQ811CazvSk
Laos Participation in the tournament was made possible through sponsorship from Sony Ericsson and Stena Line.