A group of talented youngsters from Braidhurst High School, North Lanarkshire returned from a recent tour to Portugal on a high after beating SL Benfica Academy on their own turf.
The players spent a week training and playing matches at the home of the Portuguese giants and were even invited to attend the local derby against Sporting Lisbon – where they met Scotland international Ryan Gauld.
But the highlight of the trip – led by Gordon Craig, the SFA Performance coach at Braidhurst – was undoubtedly a 1-0 win over the local academy side in front of the Benfica TV cameras.
Gordon told the Scottish FA: “The fact this trip is on the calendar for the next two years thanks to the funding and support of North Lanarkshire Council and North Lanarkshire Leisure is the perfect learning experience and gauge of development stage for these elite young athletes.
“There is no better place for our kids to test their level than at this top European Club. This group of young Lanarkshire kids have proven they can compete at any level.”
As one of the Scottish FA’s Performance Schools Braidhurst host some of the most talented youngsters in the country and they showed their promise throughout the trip, impressing the watching Benfica coaches.
After a couple of days training the team played their first game at the Caixa Futebol Campus – racing to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Josh McPake (Hibernian) and Kyle Connell (Motherwell) before the hosts fought back to draw 2-2.
'Life Changing Experience'
A few days later the school played a second fixture against Benfica Academy – where the players achieved a result they can savour for years. An early strike from Motherwell’s Jamie Semple was enough to give Braidhurst High a 1-0 win, with eye-catching performances from captain Sam Duncan (Motherwell) and goalkeeper Jon McCracken (Hamilton).
Gordon said: “This was a life changing, positive experience for these young players, one that they will remember forever, be it if they build on this to become professional footballers or not”.
“It makes you so proud to see them grow in confidence and perform on and off the pitch in what had many challenging and exciting environments.
“Credit must go to the school and their clubs not only to all the players staff and partners involved.”