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National Flags

Fourteen years ago, the World Class Player tournament started with only nine teams and four days to find a victor. Now, the contest brings thousands of players from across the country to make up approximately 70 teams that compete in one of Saskatchewan's largest indoor soccer tournaments.

One family in Regina are sending all five brothers to the pitch. The Azizi’s are originally from Afghanistan but they will march ahead under different flags and divisions, because the competition does not restrict an individual from playing for another country if the team has already met the heritage requirement.

Each team must have a certain number of players that are descendants of the heritage they represent. The heritage required for each national team ranges from 3 to 6 depending on the division. Each team can have a maximum of 20 players in total. Except for the Under 12 and Men’s Masters Divisions, which will host ten-a-side matches, the rest of the divisions will have to make do with 9 plays on the pitch for each team.

The ability to play for a different nation gives participants a unique opportunity to learn new cultures and meet new people from different countries and communities. Twenty-year-old Asad, who is a 2017 medalist, says “It is definitely an event that brings people from different ethnicities closer, and it gives you an understanding of what soccer means to people and how important it is.”

The U of S student has played for Germany, Thailand, Italy, Colombia and his country of origin. “I remember for Afghanistan, when I played [and] when we went to the semis, the community came and they supported us; and there was a huge section where all the Afghans were cheering. It was exciting and very fun.”

The avid Arsenal fan described his experience as a player as unforgettable. “To see the crowd and to be in that environment, it’s powerful. You see the crowd cheering at the top of their lungs, and you see the payers giving it their all, for their nationality, for their country. It is something beautiful to watch.”

This year Asad will play for Pakistan again but this time in the U23 division. Apart from the love for the game, he believes this tournament is a good place to start if you want to show off your talents and grab some attention from the scouts. “You will definitely meet the people who get to run Regina soccer.”

This year, there will be U12 Boys and Girls, U13 Boys and Girls, U15 Boys and Girls, U17 Boys and Girls, U23 Boys, Men and Women, and Masters Men (35-37 years old) divisions.
The cost (ranging from $1050 to $1250 per team), two and half week duration and the fact that is it just before exams does not seem to stop students and school kids from competing.

The youngest of the Azizi’s fantastic five is 11-year-old Tannin. Last year, he played for Jamaica and made it to the semifinals. This year, he intends to play for the team that stopped them from advancing, Romania. Tannin’s team is also expected to play three exhibitions matches along with the regular training session to be well prepared. He says he has no problem with the busy schedule because he has “a lot of passion for soccer [and] the environments is really good.”

Fardeen is the second youngest. The 13-year-old right-footed centre midfielder will probably wear the Serbian jersey. The two-time WCP cup winner has earned trophies with Germany in the U12 and U13 divisions. He said “Germany are not making a team this year,” but this not going to sideline him from the chasing a third gold medal because, “I love football and I have a passion for it,” he said.

The centrepiece of ‘the beautiful game’ is the men’s division, according to Fatehullah Azizi, the oldest of the five. “The men’s is usually the most popular.” The 25-year-old striker has always played in the Men’s division and he thinks “the level of the completion is pretty good… there are people who come from all over, from Vancouver, from Toronto, from Edmonton [and] mostly Winnipeg and Calgary.”

Fatehullah has played for Afghanistan four times in the past. This year he will play for Colombia along-side his 18-year old brother Mateen, as they seek to defeat reigning champions team Canada in the Men’s division.

The 17-day event is not exclusively for soccer supporters or footie fanatics. On March 29, any fans, friends or family are welcome to cheer on their favourite national team “If anyone has the slightest interest in soccer, I would definitely recommend them to come out to either watch or participate,” Asad said.