International Ukrainian Football Tournament held in Adelaide, Australia

 
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Published in the Ukrainian Weekly. Download a PDF of this article (starts on page 9).

By Christina Maria Paschyn
January 27, 2008

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA – Soccer is a sport with the power to unite friends, enemies and strangers from around the globe.  It is the world’s most popular game, so it is not uncommon for even amateur players to travel thousands of miles and to spend thousands of dollars just for the chance to kick a small, round ball.

And that love of soccer – or football as it is called outside of North America – proved its power again last week when it enticed Ukrainians from Great Britain and Ivano Frankivsk to fly to the land Down Under to play in the second-annual International Ukrainian Football Tournament (IUFT).

“It’s been a pleasure meeting another Ukrainian community in Australia. We’ve met people we didn’t meet last year in Sydney [IUFT 2007], and again they have embraced us,” said 29-year-old Stefan Moroziuk, the captain of the Great Britain-Ukrainian soccer team.  “And it’s fantastic, which is really a massive part of the tournament, people meeting each other around the world.”

The tournament is quite possibly the global Ukrainian diaspora community’s largest sporting event.  Held this year in Adelaide, Australia from January 13-19, organizers welcomed three local Australian-Ukrainian teams from Melbourne-Victoria (USC Lions Victoria), Adelaide (USC Lion Adelaide) and Sydney (Sydney Trident FC).

Great Britain was represented with a team comprised of players from England and Scotland.  And Ukraine hailed a team from the University of Nafty i Hazu (Oil & Gas) in Ivano Frankivsk, called FSC Prykarpattya.

The teams played an average of five games during the six-day tournament, with two matches taking place each night.

Although team Sydney won the championship trophy in the IUFT inaugural year in 2007, this year team Ukraine, which plays in the Ukrainian First League, was favored to win.

And it lived up to its reputation, winning the tournament without a single loss.  Team Sydney came second, losing to Ukraine 0-1 during a 20-minute overtime in the final match.

“The Ukrainians play a good game,” said Sydney player Ahmad Kabbara, 23, who is Lebanese by heritage but is active in the city’s Ukrainian diaspora soccer community.  “They play a fast game. But we slowed down our game and we approached them in the right way.”

“[But] Five games in six days, that does get to every player,” he explained.  “And coming out of that, I think for both teams you’re going to get tired and you’re going to miss those chances.”

Team Great Britain emerged from the tournament in third after beating team Adelaide 2-0 in the third-fourth place play-off match.  It was a respectable feat after two of the team’s players suffered ankle and finger injuries during the week.

“Just one man down in the squad and trying to keep fresh legs on the pitch all the time and you’re a man short – it does make a big difference,” said Moroziuk, who suffered damaged ligaments in his right ankle when he was tackled during a match against team Victoria.  Team Great Britain won the game 8-0, but the injury left Moroziuk sidelined for the rest of the tournament.

Still, Moroziuk said he was proud of the team’s finish.

“I think we finished quite strongly in this tournament,” he said.  “A lot of people feel we should have been in the final, but then it doesn’t go like that in soccer because it’s so unpredictable sometimes.”

Team Victoria placed fifth, after drawing one game and losing three.  It was arguably the weakest team at the tournament with four players in their mid-40s, who simply were unable to match their younger and fitter competitors.

Yet team Victoria’s games provided the most entertainment for the about 300 spectators that flocked to the grange stands each night.

Indeed the highlight of tournament was its unusually friendly losing match against Ukraine, 4-7.  It should have been a quick and easy win for team Ukraine.  But team Victoria managed to mollify its opponent’s fierce competitiveness early in the week:

“The older guys really looked after the Ukrainian boys,” laughed 25-year-old Andrew Sobol, the captain and goalie of team Victoria.  “They took them out every night, showed them a good time, and spent quite a bit of money on them.  They became good friends.”

“And they [team Ukraine] already were in the final, so there was no point in them playing hard,” he continued with a sly grin.  “And we wanted some respectability as well. So we had an understanding”

But team Ukraine wasn’t the only one to enjoy itself off the field.  IUFT 2008 kicked off with the Adelaide Malanka, which featured a performance by the Adelaide Ukrainian dance troupe Volya.

Throughout the week, the players were treated to free meals by tournament-sponsor, Hoverla, the Ukrainian credit union in Adelaide, whose generosity also financed a koala sanctuary walk for team Ukraine.

And in the morning hours before the matches, the players built up their strength by cavorting around Glenelg – one of South Australia’s premiere beach towns.

“The hospitality out here is second to none, said Great Britain player Roman Lenio, 26.  “The organization of the competition is fantastic.”

IUFT President and Founder Daniel Sawalaga also believed the tournament was a success.

“It’s brought a lot of Ukrainians who haven’t been involved in the Ukrainian community for a long time,” beamed 29-year-old Sawalaga.  “It’s brought a lot of interest, it’s gotten people talking. We’ve involved other facets of the Ukrainian community, like dancing groups and choirs.  And a lot of people have enjoyed it.”

Spectator Natalia Hayduk, 22, couldn’t agree more, but she hopes that IUFT will expand to include gender-representative teams.

“I think women’s soccer games would be great as well.  If not next year, at least within the next five years it should be a goal.  I know there are plenty of girls up in Sydney who would love it,” Hayduk said.

“[Also] hopefully next year the Americans will come along and it can be more of an international event,” she added.

An American-Canadian team attended the tournament last year, tying in third with Great Britain.  But this year, according to USCAK Soccer Director Gene Chyzowych, the organization was unable to send a team because of a previous commitment to the Tryzub Olympics in Philadelphia.

“There was too much to do, too many expenses,” Chyzowych explained.  “And the teams were not prepared because most of the players are committed to work and as a result it would have been impossible to take off for those ten days.”

But he said USCAK will definitely participate in the tournament in 2009, which is set to be held in Nottingham, England.

And for Sawalaga, that means his dream is coming true.

“I went to England and America on an overseas trip in 2005… and I heard about the tournaments that the English [Ukrainians] had been to in America a couple years prior, and they said how good it was,” he said.

“My brother and I were very jealous, and we thought ‘why can’t we be involved?’  And we started talking, ‘let’s do an international one.’ And everyone was keen.”

Based on the response from the players and fans present at this year’s tournament, ‘keen’ is an understatement.

For more information on IUFT, visit the Web site at www.IUFT.net.

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