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Not FIFA: Karpatalja wins alternative football world cup

by: Ravi Khanal
10 June, 2018

Ten-day ConIFA World Football Cup saw squads from 'unrecognised nations' battle it out across stadiums in London.

London, England - A corner of north London was drenched in music and colour as Karpatalja beat Northern Cyprus to claim the ConIFA World Football Cup in front of a crowd of thousands.  

As a carnival atmosphere ignited Enfield's Queen Elizabeth II Stadium on Saturday, penalties were needed to find a winner. Midfielder Halil Turan missed the final kick, as a team representing Cyprus' breakaway Turkish republic fell to Karpatalja - a Hungarian-speaking minority from western Ukraine.

This was international football gone rogue, an unyielding defiance of the status quo.

The tournament, organised by the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, was played out at 10 stadiums across London over the last 10 days, providing a thrilling, subversive alternative to the geopolitical norm.

"We want to say that people's identities matter, and that you don't have to fit into the pigeonholes that have been created politically," said Paul Watson, the head of the tournament's organising committee. "Our flexible view of identity is more suited to the modern world than the existing one is."

ConIFA is a broad church. Members represent a patchwork of ethnic minorities and partially recognised republics. 

For some, participation comes as a longed-for opportunity to manifest their statehood in the eyes of an international community that rejects them.

Situated in a subtropical paradise on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, the Republic of Abkhazia has lived in political isolation ever since the end of a 1992-93 war with Georgia, which claims sovereignty.

Team manager Beslan Ajinjal said on the eve of kick-off: "A national holiday was declared when we won this tournament two years ago.

"We are a country that is developing fast. This tournament gives us a chance to show the world who we are." 

Some almost never made it. 

Days before the tournament began, the Matabeleland side, from western Zimbabwe, were still a four-figure sum short of reaching their crowd-funded $25,000 budget needed to fly to the UK. 

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