International soccer arrives in Shepparton

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Huge news: City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Shane Sali, Football Australia chief executive James Johnson and Deputy Mayor Anthony Brophy watch Kialla’s Ahmed Saraf juggle the ball (Photos: Rechelle Zammit). Photo by Rechelle Zammit

It’s official — international soccer is headed to Shepparton.

Some of Asia’s best young talent will descend on the Shepparton Sports City in October, with Group G of the Asian Football Confederation U17 Asian Cup Qualifiers set to be held at the venue.

The group will feature Australia, China, Cambodia and the Northern Mariana Islands and be the first time Australia has hosted qualifiers for any AFC youth tournament since 2009.

Years in the making: Mayor Shane Sali said Greater Shepparton City Council had been working towards this announcement for some time. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Shane Sali was joined by Football Australia chief executive James Johnson for the announcement, with a number of kids from St George’s Rd Primary School providing a backdrop.

Cr Sali said council had been working towards this event for a number of years, with the announcement being “really exciting”.

“There was always an ambition from the council prior to this announcement to attract international events,” Cr Sali said.

“This was one, like many others that were in the pipeline to be achieved, and we’re grateful to announce it.”

Cr Sali said the tournament would not only expose the next generation of soccer players to high-level talent but generate upwards of $1 million for the local economy.

He said the event was just another reason the city should feature prominently in Victoria’s regional Commonwealth Games in 2026.

Delighted: Football Australia chief executive James Johnson says the organisation is committed to bringing more soccer to communities. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

Mr Johnson said Football Australia knew Shepparton was a place that would deliver a great competition.

Good turnout: Members of the local and national soccer community listen to the announcement. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

“There’s been a strategic focus from Football Australia to try and bring our communities closer to global football (soccer) and what better way to do that than to bring global content back to the local community,” he said.

On the move: Grade 6 student Farhan Khazim Khadimi kicks the ball. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

“Shepparton was really interested to do this and I think there is certainly a lot of positive energy coming out of Shepparton, so for us it was a good marriage between what we wanted to do and what the council wanted to do.”

Game mode: Grade 6 student Ali Al Ali was one of a number of primary school students involved with the announcement. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

Known as the ‘Joeys’, Australia’s under-17 national team has featured a number of future Socceroos at previous Asian Cup tournaments.

Having a rest: Grade 6 student Yasin Abkar takes it all in. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

The likes of Milos Degenek, Riley McGree and Kye Rowles have all pulled on the Joeys shirt in recent years and local soccer fans are set to be treated to the next generation of talent in their own backyard.

Good times: Year six students Ali Al Ali and Yasin Abkar enjoy having a kick. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

The qualifying games may provide a platform for further high-level soccer in the region, with Mr Johnson not ruling out Shepparton playing a role in next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, which is being hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Kicking off: Grade 6 student Sajad Dhayool passes the ball. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

“FIFA will go through a process soon where they’ll select training venues and I understand this (Shepparton Sports City) will be one of the venues that is considered,” he said.

“I think given that Shepparton will hold an under-17 men’s tournament will certainly help the region and I think a successful delivery of that tournament will help as well.”

Under control: Grade 6 student Mohammad Reza cushions the ball. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

Shepparton will host Group G of the AFC U17 Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers at the Shepparton Sports City Precinct at McEwen Reserve from October 5 to 9.