International soccer showdown

By Gus Bode

With one missed penalty kick, the Jean Stehr Field near Pulliam Hall erupted with the sound of triumphant teammates and screaming soccer fans after a month of grueling competition culminated in the second straight victory for the African Lions.

SIUC students representing more than a dozen countries took part in the International Soccer Tournament, which ran from Sept. 24 to Oct. 29. This year marked the 26th year of the tournament, which is hosted by the International Student Council.


The championship game was the most contested of the entire tournament and finished in overtime when the African Lions – the defending champions – defeated the Sudan team in penalty kicks, 3-2.

Christian Mukania, captain of the African Lions, said the team had not won for a few years but that he was happy the African Lions have left as champions the past two years.

“It’s so exciting,” Mukania said. “I feel so special. I love this team.”

The finale was a tight-knit display of skill and speed, and play was fueled by intensity and passion. Fans and players cheered uproariously during the deadlocked final game.

Determination was a common theme in each game over the month-long series.

Many players came out bruised and battered. Emotions inevitably boiled over as the tournament progressed. SIUC police were called in when tempers became too hot.

Yet in the end, the tournament’s true focus came back to the spirit of the soccer game and its ability to unite millions of people across hundreds of countries.


“Everybody is really enthusiastic about their teams and their countries,” said Linzie Ledbetter, an alumnus who has been involved in the tournament since 1993.

Abdullah Al Attas of the United Players team was angry about getting a warning yellow card, so he asked for a red card from the referee, which expelled him from the game.

While such occurrences were rare in the tournament, they revealed the emotional core of the sport. Other instances were a little more revealing and surprising.

During one of the games, Dean Annley of the United Players team flipped a bench when his team gave up a goal. Annley’s teammates had to restrain him from attacking his own goalkeeper.

SIUC police weren’t the only assistants called to the field. On one particular day, teams had to call a locksmith to remove a bike lock that had connected two goal posts, postponing play for nearly an hour. Some in attendance questioned whether one of the teams had a hand in the deed.

Ledbetter said the emotions in each game showed how important the tournament is to the participants.

“They want to win. They want to represent their country,” Ledbetter said. “You won’t believe how important that is.”

While many of the teams consisted of students from the same country, some were diverse groups.

The African Lions, for example, was made up of students from countries such as Greece, India, Mexico, Nepal and the United States.

Mukania said the African Lions could be renamed to better reflect the players who represent his team.

“Instead of calling it the African Lions, we should call it the United Lions,” Mukania said.

Ledbetter said the tournament is a great way to get international students to socialize with students from other cultures.

“You meet people, and you build friendships,” Ledbetter said. “One of the problems with a lot of international communities is they don’t get out and socialize with people who are not of the same ethnicity.”

The tournament is also a great way for international students to participate in sports they are familiar with, said Aaron Victor, a senior staff volunteer for the International Student Council.

“They see soccer as a home away from home,” Victor said.

The tournament was filled with shutouts during regular season play and many injuries. The teams who practiced over the summer stood out in the tournament, Ledbetter said.

Players argued with the referee and at times would take dives in an attempt to draw penalties on their opponents. A dive in soccer is when a player intentionally takes a fall to get the referee to call a foul on an opposing player, usually resulting in a turnover.

Wan Kamal Wan Napi, the referee for many of the matches, caught some of the players taking dives and insisted they get up instead of calling a penalty. He said many of the students were quick to argue rather than compete.

“They are lacking of stamina and endurance because they are students,” said Wan Napi, a former ISC president. “The only stamina they have is in their tongue.”

The audience for the African Lions was the most vocal group, as they sang songs, cheered and booed during every game. The African Lions’ fans often outnumbered those of other team crowd. When Sudan’s players were injured, the fans would jeer them off the field with song.

Among the songs were renditions of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” and the classic “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye).”

United Players team captain Ahmad Alsharif said the fans’ enthusiasm made the environment more favorable for the African Lions.

“It’s helping. It’s basically a home game,” Alsharif said.

Mukania said the singing brought his team back to life, especially in the championship when the team struggled for a goal.

“Whenever they start singing, it’s a real boost for us,” Mukania said.

Noman Mohiuddin, ISC vice president of finance, said players on both the United Players and the Sudan team might have been affected because some players were fasting through the tournament for Ramadan. Those players could not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.

“They need more rest, and they get tired more easily,” Mohiuddin said.

By the end of Sunday’s final game, the bright sun that had shone on the field had long since disappeared over the horizon, but the African Lions remained with a trophy and the pride of being champions.

Wayne Utterback can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 268 or [email protected].