Out of Africa for young players

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Out of Africa for young players

A team of young football players from South Africa got a taste of international football while participating in the 2008 MBC International Youth Soccer Tournament in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang, this week.

But it wasn’t all business class and luxury hotels for these boys. To play on the world stage, they had an arduous flight from Johannesburg to Korea via Hong Kong. Then after stepping off the plane at Incheon on Sunday, they got straight on the bus and traveled six hours to Gimhae.

Despite the long journey the players were still full of energy, their young eyes glistening with curiosity. Back home they usually have to run 20 kilometers to get to school.

Unfortunately though, the under-12 team lost their opening match to a Korean side on Monday, 0-6. But just being here to compete was a victory of sorts for the youngsters.

Although South Africa is hosting the 2010 World Cup, 85 percent of its population is exposed to the dangers of poverty, AIDS and other diseases, with many young people falling victim to drugs and alcohol.

Their 52-year-old Korean coach, Lim Heung-se, arrived in South Africa in February 2007 to help at-risk children and teach them some fundamental football skills.

Under Lim’s direction, they started to turn away from their old, dangerous habits.

“I said, ‘You guys can become stars like other African players such as Emmanuel Adebayor and Didier Drogba,’” said Lim. “I added, ‘To play soccer well, you guys must keep away from alcohol and drugs.’”

In just one year, Lim has established 20 soccer teams composed of young South Africans around the city of Pretoria.

“Although they lost, their deftness and individual skills are excellent,” said Lee Sang-cheol, an official of the Korea Football Association. “If they continue to be trained well, they will become great players.”

Lim has a long history of involvement in Korean football, having trained local stars Hong Myung-bo and Kim Joo-sung.

“I’m just so happy to see the rapid development of the young players,” Lim said.

By Jeong Young-jae JoongAng Ilbo [spark@joongang.co.kr]

Coach Lim Heung-se with his South African football team in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang. By Song Bong-geun

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