“To be honest, we have no idea what to expect when we go to Brazil,” says Robert Galati. He’s part of a Toronto-based amateur soccer team (Team Migos) that has advanced through local and national tournament rounds to win a spot in the Neymar Jr.’s Five international finals hosted in Praia Grande, Brazil later this week.
While 228 teams from four Canadian cities (Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver) competed to represent the country, Galati says nearly 1,800 teams competed for Brazil’s top spot.
“Honestly, probably 1,700 of those teams are so much better than us,” he adds. “You can’t compare it. They play everyday. From the day they’re born, they’re learning to kick a ball. Soccer in Brazil is like hockey in Canada.”
However, the unique format of the tournament is favourable to what he sees as a Canadian style of playing soccer. Each game is five-on-five on a small field, and the nets are small so it’s hard to score without a lot of creativity and teamwork. To make things even harder, each time there’s a goal, the scored-upon team loses a player. Games are only 10 minutes long, but they can also end if one team has lost all of their players.
This kind of high-pressure game works well with players who rely heavily on their defensive skills, according to Galati.
“In Canada, defense wins everything,” he says. “You close out your net and you’re hoping for some magic from your offensive players.” This tactic helps keep the ball from advancing too close to their net and gives their offense more opportunities to gain momentum.
Galati and his teammates have all at some point played for the Ryerson University varsity team, which has helped them develop a like-minded approach to the game.
This defense-first strategy is somewhat ironic, though, as the Neymar Jr.’s Five tournament is named after Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior – a formidable offensive striker who plays for Barcelona. Although teams headed to the finals this week come from more than 50 countries and feature some of the most talented players under 25, Galati feels confident in his team’s chances of winning.
“When you go to these tournaments, there are a lot of players that are pretty flashy and they like to deke and stuff like that,” says Galati. “But we’re a defensive-minded team. And when you score the first goal, you can find ways to win.”
If they’re able to implement their best game when the finals kick off later this week, there’s a good chance Galati and his teammates could play an even bigger game in front of the home crowd.
“If you win the tournament, you play Neymar and his four friends,” he says. “And then you also get a flight to Barcelona.”
Team Migos would then meet the Barcelona club, which would be able to assess their future prospects for soccer. While Galati is planning to remain in Toronto no matter what, he has no doubt some of his teammates will be going pro soon enough.
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