By Charlie Pinkerton
A trio of Ottawa’s brightest young soccer stars represented Canada on the world stage last month.
Cyrann Essindi, Ben Penticost and Hadi Assaad each made their presence felt for Team Canada at the Danone Nations Cup held at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, near New York,
The trio of Ottawa players helped Canada to 6th place, tying the team’s best ever finish in the tournament that was first held in 2000.
Essindi, Penticost and Assaad were selected to represent Canada after attending a series of regional spring camps before being divided into teams to compete in a play-in game for the right to represent the country. The Ottawa boys’ team won.
The tournament is billed as “the world’s biggest football tournament for children aged 10 to 12”.
Teams from 32 countries around the world competed in this year’s tournament, which wrapped came to an end of Sept. 24.
Canada swept its group stage games with wins against Uruguay, Japan and Belgium to finish first in their group.
In the round of 16, Canada beat the United Arab Emirates 2-1, but lost to Morocco in the quarter-final by a score of 2-0. They beat Ghana in penalty kicks in the consolation playoffs before losing to Germany in penalties to finish in 6th place.
It was also the first year the tournament included a girls’ division. Canada’s girls team, coached by West Ottawa Soccer Club technical director Kristina Kiss, placed 2nd in the 6 team tournament.
On Canada’s team, Cyrann Essindi represented the Cumberland United Soccer Club. He was the only 11-year-old out of Ottawa’s 3 players. His highlight of the tournament came in Canada’s 1st game against Uruguay. He scored all 3 of Canada’s goals in their shutout win. He was the second leading scorer in the tournament with 6 goals for Canada.
Throughout the tournament he also enjoyed hanging out with players from other countries.
“It was very fun singing with them, playing music and dancing,” Essindi noted.
He, Penticost and Assaad had never played on the same team before the tournament.
This didn’t stop them from instantly meshing well on the pitch.
“When we started playing together we had a connection really quickly,” Essindi added.
“It was very fun being with them.”
Ben Penticost, 12, of the St. Anthony Futuro Soccer Academy had never experienced a tournament like the Danone Nations Cup before.
“It was a really proud feeling to be selected amongst all of the other kids that tried out across Canada,” Penticost said.
To Penticost, the best part of the tournament was hanging out with players coming from different countries and different cultures.
His personal on-the-field highlight came against Japan. Penticost substituted into the game following a goal by the Japanese. With Canada in the lead 2-1 he scored another for the red and white to halt the opposition’s momentum and make the final score 3-1.
At first, he was sad that the team only finished 6th, but in the weeks since the tournament he’s realized how impressive it was to match Canada’s best result ever.
“It was an amazing accomplishment,” Penticost said.
Representing Ottawa South United, 12-year-old Hadi Assaad said it was amazing to play for his country on the world stage.
“It felt great. It’s a once in a lifetime chance and it was a good experience,” Assaad said.
The moment of the tournament that stood out the most for him was Canada’s game against Belgium. After assisting on the team’s first goal, Assaad netted the winner to give Canada a 2-1 victory.
He thinks Canada’s record tying result in the tournament is a positive sign for the future of Canadian soccer.
“If you go from the youth and think of the next generation (of Canadian soccer) it’s going to turn out well,” Assaad added.