Queenstown’s Ella van der Geest has an amazing shot at glory – she’s the only girl playing at the world’s most prestigious youth soccer tournament.
The talented 13-year-old travels to Spain at the end of this month for the Mediterranean International Cup, which has teams from glory clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
The long-running competition is backed by Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho and has been a launchpad for megabucks players such as Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas and Barcelona ace Lionel Messi.
“It doesn’t bother me I’ll be the only girl there,” Ella, a student at Wakatipu High, says. “I can’t wait to go.”
Her mum Lee adds: “She’s really strong and I have no worries about her mixing it with the boys.”
Ella is one of eight under-14 players from Central Otago – including three from the Wakatipu – who’ll be at the elite, six-day tournament in Barcelona.
They’re all graduates of the new 82 Football Academy based at Jack’s Point and will join a 19-strong squad picked from the soccer school’s courses around New Zealand.
Outside of the competition, the Kiwi side already has friendly matches lined up with Spanish giants FC Barcelona and Espanyol.
Former Aussie soccer pro Richard Johnson, who co-owns the Queenstown academy with All Whites coach Ricki Herbert, reckons midfielder Ella will have no problem rubbing shoulders with the male starlets.
“We didn’t want to exclude anyone as we are an academy and Ella has done really well,” he says. “She is a very talented footballer.”
Johnson adds: “This will be a great experience for all the youngsters as they’ll be playing against teams from some of the world’s biggest clubs.
“It’ll be a tough challenge but there’s some good talent here in NZ.”
|On the trip, Ella will have plenty of help from one of her biggest supporters – her dad Jaap is a coach at the resort-based academy.
Also going to Spain from the Wakatipu are 12-year-old goalkeeper Marcel Kampman and Carter Imrie-Milne, 13.
To give the team a good send-off, there’s a fundraising cocktail party, comedy night and auction at Jack’s Point’s Clubhouse next Thursday, from 7-10pm.
The 82 Football Academy is also on the hunt for new coaches and players for its next Queenstown sessions in April.