Three minutes, two ballers and one ball. These are the three key ingredients that bring together the worlds top professional free style ballers at this years 2010 finals in Cape Town, South Africa. After over 200 qualifying tournaments, featuring over 5000 wannabes the winners of each regional qualification round gather in front of the epic Table Mountain in a bid to become the 2010 Red Bull Street Style Soccer Champion.
Each player has twenty seconds to perform their trick(s) at the end of which they pass the ball to their opponent who will take his turn and the winner at the end of each three minute battle progresses through to the next round. Each player gets judged on three criteria, control, creativity and style with the winners of each qualification round making it through to the last 16 knock-out stage. Let the battles commence!
Day 1 – Qualification: HENDERSON MAKES GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION
It was the first day of qualification and you could feel the sense of excitement in the air with rumors circulating around the camp that players were saving their best tricks for the final, but if the early rounds were anything to go by then South Africa was in for a huge football treat just over a month before the World Cup has even kicked-off.
English hopeful Andrew Henderson had a tough group in which he and opponent Kotaro Tokuda produced what many players and Andrew himself described as ‘the battle of the championship’. Tokuda, who coincidently is the same age as Andrew, came into this years World Street Style tournament as one of the hot favorites to go all the way and win the prestigious event.
Up against his skilful Japanese opponent, Andrew was forced to produce his best skills to date and each time his opponent responded well, but it was the United Kingdom who took the win and produced without doubt the first shock of the tournament which dismayed not only the audience but Andrew himself.
Andrew said, “From what all the crowd had said the first battle when I was up against the Japanese champion Kotaro Tokuda was the best battle of the competition, but I thought they were just saying that to boost my confidence but then I watched it back on camera and in my opinion it was the best battle overall.”
To be honest I wasn’t nervous for that particular battle. I walked on thinking he was going to be amazing and I just responded well and then as the day went on I just got more and more confident, got into my flow and got through the first day with quite a lot of ease.
The 18-year-old impressed the crowds but more importantly the judges not only against his Japanese rival, but also against his other challengers and he stormed through qualifying by winning all four rounds on day one 3-0. This made the 18-year-old stand out as an early contender but there were others who shone along with the sun in front of Table Mountain.
The usual suspects returned on form, with the likes of defending champion Sean Garnier, the experienced Daniel Rooseboom and Ireland’s Hoai-Nam Nguyen all finishing top of their respective qualifying groups, but there were a few spanners thrown into the works too. First-time competitor Lukas Chwiedukz, nicknamed Luki who is still in secondary school really caught the eye with some telling skills and his on-stage charisma making him one to watch in round two.
Day 2 – Qualification: INJURY CAUSES CONCERN FOR UK HOPEFUL
Throughout the week Britain’ Andrew Henderson always seemed to remain relaxed backstage. From the first day of qualifying right the way through to the last few minutes before the final, almost all of the competitors would be practising their skills with one another, dusting up their routines and generally keeping their minds and thoughts busy to remove and unwanted pressure or nerves.
Not Andrew. He doesn’t like to express off the stage and instead lets other ballers from around the world take the attention. When his name was introduced to the crowd, judges and fellow players on day one there was a huge cheer. When the young man from Truro, Newquay presented his first around the world trick to the mesmerised crowd they gazed in astonishment. And when the Australian was declared in the draw for the last 16 on finals day, there was a sense of fear amongst all of the other competitors.
The highlight of the second day of qualifying in Cape Town had to be the entertaining performance from an 11-year-old Nigerian. Habib Makanjuola , whose personal hero is Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, delighted the crowds with his unique performances, which were described by Jamaican journalist Oral Buchanan as “the most entertaining of the event so far” and the reporter went on to add, “this kid has got a long future in the sport if he keeps performing like that!”
After qualification on day two, it was clear Andrew Henderson was widely regarded as one of the favourites to win the competition. When he walked into the pre-final press conference to draw out the last-16 participants the room went silent and there seemed to be an air of respect towards him, but an injury concerned the 18-year-old heading into the final day.
On day two I only had two battles so I felt more relaxed but I was also suffering from a slight groin injury and a had a bit of cramp, which was probably caused through tiredness so I wasn’t in the best shape.
He added, “I had two battles left in my group and I knew I was already going through to the last 16 and I knew I should have been relaxed but I got onto the stage and tried a big trick and it failed, so from then on I was a bit nervous. My plan was to try out new things, experiment and leave the big moves for the later rounds, but I got a bit carried away and nervous, but I still think I did okay in the early rounds.”
He was drawn to play the experienced Dutch player Daniel Rooseboom in what many including the English media saw as a good draw, but his pathway to the final would be hijacked by the likes of defending champion Sean Garnier and South Africa’s ever improving Kamal Ranchod.
Finals Day: BRITISH HOPES DEALT UNDESERVED BLOW
The final day of the hugely successful Street Style Soccer event all but seemed a bit of an anti-climax, with strong winds at an estimated 50mph putting the evenings play on hold. It seemed as though all the afternoon training had come to nothing to their credit the players still decided to remain optimistic. However the players were given the good news that the last 16 stage of the competition hadn’t been blown away, just simply delayed which brought back the buzz surrounding the event.
The wind was always going to test all of the players involved in the last-16 stage of the competition and when Andrew made his way onto the stage following a huge reception from the crowd the conditions were no different. His date with destiny began.
As the contest progressed both players raised the level, but again it seemed as though the 18-year-old had more in his locker and was certainly being more creative than his Dutch contender. The crowd seemed to agree too and when the three minutes came to an end they, the English camp and Andrew himself were all confident he had done more than enough to progress to the next stage.
It was down to the judges, with former free style player giving Andrew the lead, but former African player of the year George Weah disagreed and tied the votes level, leaving the casting vote to head judge Edgar Davids. The former Holland international coincidently was not only the same nationality as Andrew Henderson’s opponent, but he was also part of the same free style company and to everyone’s surprise he voted Daniel the winner.
Britain’s hopes of a win were cruelly shattered. Andrew himself was clearly disappointed with the outcome of the result and the vibrant crowd agreed as the response from all sections was a series of boo’s directed towards Mr Davids. They clearly felt the man from Truro did more than enough to justify his place and Andrew did all he could to protest the decision but to no avail.
A deflated Andrew said, “It’s disappointing because in my opinion I did a good job and I don’t really understand how I lost that battle because although I dropped the ball twice, it was clearly because of the wind. I also felt I was the more creative. I produced to new moves that nobody has ever seen or done, one of them I only thought of the day before the event.”
“I have no regrets at all to be honest. I think I did everything I could in my last 16 battle and even if I did that much more Edgar Davids would have still voted for my opponent Daniel. Even if Daniel was in a wheelchair he still would have gone through to the next round, that’s just the way it is.”
Domestic hopes were now on Ireland’s Noai-nam Nguyen who made it through to the quarter-final stage of the competition but was defeated by the consistent Norwegian Anders ‘Azun’ Solum who had impressed at each stage of the competition. ‘Nam the man’ as he is known in the sport, was obviously disappointed at getting eliminated but was delighted with his overall performance in Cape Town despite the windy conditions on finals day.
“I knew the level of freestyle would jump to another level at this year’s event, so I was happy and even more thrilled to find that I can safely say that I am now one of the top ten freestylers in the world. Winning all qualification battles was a surprise to me, so I was happy and my personal goal was to get through to the last 16 stage of the competition.”
He added, “Personally, I try to adapt to situations but nature got the netter of me…the wind was really hard and you don’t know when to expect the next gust so that is always on your mind, so I had to adapt and tried to perform safer tricks.”
With Britain and Ireland out, it was comforting to be able to sit back and simply enjoy the rest of the competition which still had a few more twist and turns round the corner. Firstly, defending champion Sean Garnier was knocked out at the semi-final stage, secondly crowd favorite Rocky looked odds on to make it all the way but was cruelly crowned third and the final shock became the eventual winner. Anders ‘Azun’ Solum from Norway was crowned champion after surprisingly defeating home favourite Kamal ‘Kamalio’ Ranchod in the final bringing an end to a stunning few days in Cape Town.