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Milk Cup brings the finest young international footballers to Northern Ireland

It’s the tournament that helped launch the careers of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Joe Cole and Keith Gillespie.

Now in its 28th year, the future footballing stars of tomorrow have been trying to catch the eye of talent scouts and coaches from across the globe.

For five days, 54 teams from five continents, their coaches and fans have travelled to Coleraine for the tournament which, since its launch in 1983, annually kicks the province into a football frenzy.

It has even attracted some boys from Brazil who hope to make their mark on the world stage.

Team manager Clariana Silveira (27), who has been at the helm of Desportivo Brazil for one year, said she is “hopeful” the team will do very well and showcase some of the stars of the future.

As they prepared to compete against Cruz Azul from Mexico in one of the first matches at Mullaghacall, she explained through her interpreter, Ken Orr from Antrim, that it is not a rare sight to have a woman lead a team in Brazil.

“Everybody is involved in football in Brazil,” she explained. She said there had been “a lot of respect” given to her during her visit and received a “fantastic reception” from the locals.

Mr Orr added that the young players laughed when they heard a traditional Northern Ireland football chant during the opening parade in Coleraine on Sunday evening, which attracted thousands of people.

“I had to explain the chant ‘we’re not Brazil, we’re Northern Ireland’, which they found very amusing,” he said.

Also running out on the pitches on the first day was teenager Adrian San-Juan from Mexico, a defender with Cruz Azul.

The 16-year-old, whose home for the upcoming week is the halls of residence in the nearby University of Ulster, said his first visit to Northern Ireland was a good one.

“I've played since I was a kid, it is a great experience to come here,” he said.

“The team-mates are from all over the country, it was a selection for a place, so it was hard but I'm looking forward to playing here.”

Meanwhile, a similar international feel was present at an earlier match between Kashima Antlers from Japan and Aspire from Qatar.

Standing at the sidelines observing the match was Ryozo Enomoto, the co-ordinator with the Kashima Antlers, who has been travelling to the Milk Cup since 1995.

“Japan is an island so we have less of an opportunity to compete against the rest of the world,” he said. “It is great international experience for them. But we like to come here, the people are very kind, the hospitality is like it is in Japan.”

But it wasn’t just the football teams who travelled to Northern Ireland for the Milk Cup. The spectators also made the effort.

Making the trip from Lanarkshire was Duncan Mackay (51) and his nine-year-old son Mark.

“We flew over and are trying to see as many matches as possible,” Mr Mackay said.

“A friend told us about the Milk Cup. Mark is trying to get as many autographs of players from as many different countries as possible.”

Meanwhile, Michael Browne, head coach of Aspire from Qatar, said it is a “great learning curve” for the young footballers.

“The hospitality has been fantastic,” he said.

“It was a great experience for the boys to walk through the town on Sunday and witness how important and respected the tournament is. The event is a learning curve for them.”

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