Some of the world’s best Under-13 football players will be in Dubai next week as the city hosts the third edition of the U13 Dubai Intercontinental Football Cup from February 14-16.

Held under the aegis of Dubai Sports Council, the tournament saw 12 teams take part in the inaugural edition in 2017. Last February, that number grew to 20 clubs from 13 different countries, including Spanish clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona, England’s Liverpool and Italian giants Juventus. Ghana’s Lizzy Sports Academy, however, stole the limelight from those fancied sides, defeating Real Madrid on penalties in the final to return home with the trophy.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are back to challenge for the crown, along with the likes of Juventus, Chelsea, Celta Vigo, FC Porto and Egyptian giants Al Ahly. Dubai clubs Al Nasr, Al Wasl and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai will be flying the UAE flag at the tournament along with Abu Dhabi’s Al Wahda and Al Ain.

A Tokyo Select All Star team from Japan will also be here along with Australia’s Pascoe Vale FC, FC Twente of Holland, Levante Azzuro of Italy, Japan’s JEF United Chiba and a team representing Cairo. The Canadian Academy of Futbol will be flying the flag of the Americas once again, while the Spanish Soccer Schools complete the list of 20 teams participating.

Details of the event were revealed at a press conference on Thursday at Dubai Sports Council, where His Excellency Saeed Hareb, Secretary General of Dubai Sports Club, was present along with former Spain and Real Madrid star Michel Salgado, the chief executive of the tournament, and Carles Puyol, the former Barcelona and Spain ace who is an ambassador for the tournament.

The tournament will be broadcast around the globe, on major networks, with at least 29 of the 53 matches being shown live. The matches will be played from 9am to 9pm each day, with two matches taking place simultaneously, and the grand final for Gold Cup is scheduled for 8.30pm on Saturday, February 16.

“This tournament is very important for us at Dubai Sports Council because our focus is on nurturing and supporting the future generation. I am really pleased to see five local UAE teams – Dubai clubs Al Nasr, Al Wasl and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, and Abu Dhabi’s Al Wahda and Al Ain – will be among the 20 teams from five continents competing for the title,” said HE Saeed Hareb.

“This tournament, like Dubai, is a melting pot of football cultures and styles, and its growth in three years shows that we needed such an age-group competition, where the best from different countries and continents can compete against each other. Real Madrid and Barcelona will be playing here, and so also Juventus and Chelsea and these are some of the biggest nurseries of football in the world.

“So I am sure you will be seeing many stars of the future in action next week. We will get an early glimpse into the future as the tournament showcases players who will grow up to represent their clubs and their countries, and win many titles with them. So our best wishes to everyone here and we hope to see this event grow even bigger in the coming years and become the premier under-13 football tournament in the world.”

Talking about the importance of this tournament for UAE football, Ali Omar, Director of the Sports Development Department at DSC, added: “The under-13 is a very important age group in terms of football development, and this opportunity to play some of the best players from around the globe is invaluable for players from our local clubs and academies.

“They get to play against players from the top European clubs, and see first-hand how these players train, how they manage themselves and their time. It is a great exposure to the professionalism practised at the top football clubs and nurseries of the world. It is also an opportunity for our local club coaches to see how the coaches from the top clubs operate and grasp the latest and best practises in the world of football.

U13 Intercontinental Cup Participants

“This is what makes this tournament so special. It is an invaluable experience and, in a few years’ time, you will start seeing the impact of not just this tournament on our domestic football, but all the other initiatives of Dubai Sports Council that have been focused on improving grassroots football in the country.”

Salgado, who has been the brain behind the tournament, added: “This country is my home now and Dubai is my city, and the perfect place to host this amazing tournament, which is like a son to me. I thank the Dubai Sports Council for having faith in me and backing me when I came up with the proposal for this tournament and I am really proud of what we have achieved together in three years.

“This tournament is a real chance for our local teams and local players to challenge the best of the world in order to make them ready to be competitive. It’s the biggest opportunity to watch the best U-13 players of the world and the future stars of football, and we want to make the U13 Dubai Intercontinental Football Cup the most important grassroots tournament in the world. That is my ambition.”

Puyol, who travelled to Dubai to support the tournament despite being indisposed and also missed watching Wednesday night’s El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, also talked about the importance of having an age-group tournament that brings the world’s top young talents on one platform.

“It is a great initiative and that is why I am here to support it. Kids really need a tournament like this because this age, the under-13s, is the age of transition in terms of football. This is the age when you are stepping up and taking your first baby steps towards professionalism, so getting this opportunity to compete against other 13 year olds from across the globe and having the chance to measure yourself against the top young talents is huge. This tournament could prove to be a defining moment for many careers,” said Puyol, who hung up his boots in 2014 after a career that puts him among the league of the best defenders to ever play the game.