The ConIFA World Cup 2018

Tournament Programme Front Cover (1)The eyes of the world will focus on Russia this summer as the great and the good of world football contest the 21st FIFA World Cup.

The likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo will no doubt capture the attention of billions of football fans around the globe as they carry the hopes of their nations into the tournament.

But there is another World Cup taking place this summer and it takes place on our very shores.

Composite - LogosThe third ConIFA World Cup begins on Thursday 31st May as the unlikely heroes of the Panjab, Cascadia and United Koreans in Japan battle it out to follow in the footsteps of 2016 winners Abkhazia.

The ConIFA was founded in June 2013 and was set up for nations or states that are an umbrella association for minorities, stateless peoples and regions unaffiliated with FIFA.

The first World Cup took place in 2014 in Sápmi, or as it is more commonly known Lapland.

The County of Nice were the first ever winners of the tournament, beating Ellan Vannin (representing the Isle of Man) on penalties in the final.

The 2016 finals took place in Abkhazia, a disputed region of Georgia and the hosts were victorious in the final against Panjab.

 

Abkhazian players celebrate after winning the 2016 World Football Cup final (2)
Abkhazian players celebrate after winning the 2016 World Football Cup final 

 

 

Local Abkhazian fans
Local Abkhazian fans

 

 

Abkhazia v Northern Cyprus during the 2016 World Football Cup
Abkhazia v Northern Cyprus during the 2016 World Football Cup

 

The tournament has led to a number of unexpected international call-ups for non-league players including Arjun Purewal, a defender with Ebac Northern League Consett AFC.

Purewal, along with brother Amar, represented the Panjab in the 2016 finals and has been pleasantly surprised with the standard.

“I got a message on social media from the Panjab FA asking me about representing them” explained Purewal.

card-arjun-purewall“You do wonder where it’s going when it is something a bit unknown but as soon as Amar and myself turned up for training you could see the standard was very good.

“We played a game against Leicester City’s Under-23s and we didn’t really see much of the ball if I am honest.

“It was a good learning curve and the manager was able to see just what he had to work with in the squad.

“We also played against England’s non-league side and that was a historic game for the Panjab.

“We realised very quickly that it’s very professional behind the scenes and that was a surprise.

“We have an excellent coaching staff, a number of scouts and analysts and we get detailed analysis of our opponents.

“That means we go into the finals knowing about our opponents and we have a game plan for each side”

Purewal’s side are preparing to face United Koreans in Japan, Western Armenia and Kabylia, a team representing the Kabylie people in Northern Algeria.

Their games take place at Arbour Park, home of Vanarama National League South club Slough Town.

A number of non-league grounds in Greater London will host games at this year’s tournament as the ConIFA World Cup comes to England for the very first time.

Panjab, a vast region over Northern India and Eastern Pakistan, are one of the favourites to win the World Cup and go into the tournament rated as the number one ranked side within the ConIFA umbrella.

Purewal holds fond memories of his first international tournament, despite seeing his side fall to a defeat in the final.

“It was an amazing experience, despite losing in the final,” admitted the former Blyth Spartans and Bishop Auckland defender.

“We played some good sides and my brother Amar finished top scorer after getting seven goals in five games.

“We played in a newly-built stadium in the final and there were 9,000 people there watching the game.

“We are determined to win it this time and we are favourites.

“We want to win it and I think we know it is a bit more popular this time.

“There is definitely more of a buzz going into it this time”

It may come as a surprise to many mainstream supporters that a tournament comprising of the likes of Northern Cyprus, Tibet and Oceania Football Confederation member Tuvalu can set the pulses racing.

But Purewal explained that they have attracted some big-names this time around.

“Paddy Power have come on board as tournament sponsors and Mark Clattenberg (Former Premier League referee) is refereeing some of the games.

“It is a very professional setup and it’s quite a buzz to be part of such a big tournament.

“There are a lot of non-league players representing their countries and it is all helping to improve the standard of the play.

“It will be an honour being involved and we can’t wait to get going”

The ConIFA World Cup kicks off on Thursday 31st May with the games between Ellan Vannin v Cascadia and Abkhazia v Tibet.

For more information on the ConIFA World Cup click here

WORDS: @MarkCarruthers_

ART: http://www.conifa.org/en/

VIDEO: T VINE


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