FIFA Who? New York City World Cup Sweeps Big Apple


This is not the FIFA World Cup.

It is the New York City World Cup, a tournament for New Yorkers who love playing the game. And it's giving soccer enthusiasts a chance to play an international sport without ever leaving Riverside Park in Manhattan.

In a field in Harlem, emotions run high as the U.S. soccer team battles to defeat Angola and move on to the World Cup quarterfinals. In a penalty shootout, a player for Angola steps to the ball, shoots and misses. The USA team rejoices.

"I can't wait to bring home the cup for USA. It's fantastic," team captain Larry Rice says.

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The annual tournament was first organized in 2010, when the FIFA World Cup was held in  South Africa and World Cup fever was running high.

"New York has a fascination with the World Cup," said Paul Ribadeneira.

In organizing the local tournament, Ribadeneira thought giving his pick-up soccer league a competitive edge would be a fun way for the players to engage in the game. The players are mostly intermediate to advanced players, having grown up playing the sport.

"We are on a yearly basis, and it gives us what I would call a little fix until the next World Cup so we don't have to wait another four years," he said.

The next FIFA World Cup will be held in 2014 in Brazil. The New York tourney started with 16 teams and has grown to 20, with more than 200 players choosing which team they want to play for. The teams represent countries from all over the world — Italy, Brazil and even real World Cup champion Spain, although this year Spain was eliminated in the knockout rounds.

The 2012 tournament has been played every weekend from June 30. Argentina, Italy, Holland, the United States, France, Chile, Portugal and Ivory Coast advanced to the quarterfinals. This Saturday, in the semifinals, defending champion Chile will play France, and Italy will play Ivory Coast.

The final is Sunday. The winning team's captain gets a trophy. The players each receive a medal and the bragging title of "World Cup" champions.

To set the tournament apart from its global counterpart, the NYC World Cup added nontraditional teams, including Antarctica and the United Nations.

"You have 14 or 15 players on your team. Most of them are from different nationalities or different backgrounds so you want to pick a neutral country so Antarctica is definitely neutral, and there is probably nobody on that team that is actually from Antarctica," said Ribadeneira.

Some teams comprise mostly immigrants. With large English, Spanish and French communities in the city, those teams have no trouble filling their rosters.

"Our team is mostly a core of English guys and that actually makes you feel like you are playing for England in a way," said David Carlisle, an English ex-pat and the English team captain.

Jose Pintado is from Ecuador but has admired two-time FIFA World Cup winner Argentina since he was a child.

"There are a lot of good Argentinian players so when I play with the Argentinian jersey, it is like watching the real team winning ... it is real special for us to represent them," he said with pride after beating heavyweight soccer giants Brazil.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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