Combatants representing Fiji (in black) and Germany (in green) challenging for a head ball.
Photograph by: Omar Branine, Submitted
Although the 2014 FIFA World Cup came to a close on Sunday, the hype and patriotism are still running high in the B.C. soccer community with the 35th annual Nations Cup Soccer Tournament kicking off in Richmond on Friday evening.
“This is really running from one weekend into the next, so it’s a good fit,” Nations Cup president Jeff Wilson said of the annual tournament’s seemingly perfect timing.
Wilson said he expects the buzz will boost attendance, expected to total 8,000 to 10,000-plus spectators over the weekend.
The Nations Cup is an amateur men’s and women’s tournament that sees players of various ages compete, including an open-age category for men and women and an over-30, over-38, over-45 and over-52 categories for men. Its 1,200 competing players form 62 teams based on cultural background and ethnicity, so teams representing countries like India, Germany, England, Ireland, China, Italy, etc., are battling it out for “bragging rights” associated with the coveted Nations Cup.
“It’s basically been sort of the showcase amateur soccer sporting event for the Lower Mainland and beyond ... players come from all over the place to be a part of it,” said Wilson, adding that some come from as far as Seattle, Vancouver Island and the Interior.
Many competitors also come from some of the “highest levels” of play, be it former Whitecaps or national team players or technical directors from various clubs across B.C.
“This is the best soccer outside of the Whitecaps that you’ll see in the Lower Mainland and maybe even in the province,” said Wilson. “It’s amateur soccer, but with a very professional presentation.”
But the tournament’s most unique quality is the patriotism that comes with it.
“(It’s) not unlike the World Cup, where you can put on that shirt and let everybody know that you’re there to represent Brazil, or Germany or whoever,” said Wilson. “It’s a unique opportunity for people in this part of the world, in Canada, to show your colours.
“There just isn’t anything like this (in B.C.) that has that same feel ... (it’s) something a little bit bigger and beyond just playing for a team — you’re representing a community.”
The Lower Mainland’s Indo-Canadian community has been one of the tournament’s longtime supporters, always coming prepared with a lineup of their best players.
“(We) put forth the best that we can ... to represent our community,” said Raj Sandhu, manager of Team India’s men’s open team. “The biggest soccer event for our community is the Nations Cup, where some of the top players from our community get to come out and play.”
And while the tournament mainly sees adults compete, Sandhu encourages local youth players — who make up more than 200 teams within the Indo-Canadian community’s United Summer Soccer Association — to come out and watch the games at the family-friendly event.
“There’s a lot of serious players that want to go further and get into university and aspire to make Canadian soccer better,” said Sandhu.
And, according to Sandhu, the Nations Cup is the perfect opportunity for them, as they can meet high-calibre players such as 40-year-old goalkeeper Didar Sandhu, who represented Canada at the XI Pan American Games in Havana in 1991.
Not only are they able to watch the top players in action, but they’re also able to chat with them and “(see) what it takes to be at this level.”
“It encourages a positive lifestyle,” said Sandhu. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for everybody.”
The Nations Cup kicks off Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Hugh Boyd Sports Complex at No. 1 and Francis roads in Richmond, and runs Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Attendance is free. For game schedules and more information, visit thenationscup.com.
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