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Provincial champs Juventus take game to Quebec
Youthful exuberance won out over experience at the provincial level, and now Winnipeg Juventus FC is hoping the same thing happens against the best senior men’s teams in Canada.
With an average age of 21, Juventus went through three of the province’s best teams — Lucania in the quarter-finals, Hellas in the semifinals and Sons of Italy in the final — to capture the senior men’s MSA Cup.
Along with a nice shiny trophy, the win earned the club a trip to Brossard, Que., to compete in the National Club Championships from Oct. 5 to 10.
"It was a goal of ours (to win the MSA Cup)," said co-owner Rick Moreira, a Maples resident. "But it wasn’t like it was the be all and end all. We knew it was going to be tough to beat the big three teams.
"It was a pretty new squad. There was a long period of getting to know each other because we did have a lot of new faces from last year."
Elom Akpalo scored the decisive goal in a shootout in the final, which Juventus won 3-2 after playing Sons of Italy to a 0-0 draw.
Several Juventus players have been to national championships in the past with other clubs, and Moreira is counting on them to help prepare the rookies for the experience.
Midfielder Hassan Kamara, a 20-year-old from St. Vital, has been to five national tournaments since he was 14, winning a bronze medal with the under-18 Bonivital Flames. None of the previous provincial championship teams were as strong as this one, he said.
"I’ve been on a lot of successful teams, but I would have to say this is by far the best I’ve been on," Kamara said. "The skill level of the team is nothing to be compared with. The ball is moved faster, the players are stronger and quicker. Skill-wise, we’re way beyond what I’ve experienced."
As the season wore on, Kamara said the team became closer on and off the field.
"Becoming a team and a family," he said. "Once you get that factor, players want to play as a team even more."
With more than a month off between the MSA final and their flight to Quebec, Juventus hasn’t had to worry about losing their competitive edge. With a group of hyper-competitive players, every practice is as intense as a World Cup final.
"We’re getting stronger and tougher," Kamara said. "We all want to win. In our training sessions we want to kill each other. It’s just like a game."
While the players are eyeing a gold medal, Moreira is looking at the nationals as a valuable learning experience for a youthful roster that figures to be intact for several years to come.
Following in the footsteps of a recent Hellas club that struggled one year at nationals before winning the gold medal the following year would not be a bad goal.
"We would love to come back with a medal," Moreira said. "But our goal is to go out there and be in every game. If we’re able to finish in the top five I’d be really happy."
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