Read Filip Bondy's up-to-date World Cup Diary on The Sports Blog!
HAMBURG - Gibraltar's proud soccer players giggled and clutched their third-place medals yesterday, presented to them by the Burger King Escorts. The men performed the we're-not-worthy bow to these shivering, scantily clad women, then woofed, "Who Let the Dogs Out" as they boogied out of Millerntor Stadium.
Maybe that was the moment when this tournament least resembled a World Cup.
Or maybe it was when a Zanzibar player kicked the ball clear over the distant stands, and when it required significant time to find a replacement ball. For nearly a minute, the event had gone literally over the top.
And then as the championship match between Northern Cyprus and Zanzibar ended in a scoreless draw, nobody was quite sure what should happen next.
Overtime? Penalty kicks? Okay, penalty kicks.
These were but a few of the amiable, surreal scenes at the FiFi (Federation of Independent Football Nations) Wild Cup, an alternative tournament/festival for five small-to-teeny-tiny regions that have been ostracized, banished or simply ignored by FIFA.
"Sometimes I think FIFA forgets it doesn't own football," complained Jens Tang Olesen, the coach of Greenland, a first-round loser. "It's supposed to be a World Cup, but FIFA doesn't share it with the world."
They all had problems, these wannabe nations.
Tibet is under the thumb of China. Northern Cyprus is unrecognized by the United Nations, because of Turkey's invasion of the island in 1974. Greenland can't grow grass, so it can't stage a FIFA-sanctioned event.
Impoverished Zanzibar was swallowed up by Tanzania in the socialist revolution of 1962. It has only two soccer venues. One of them, Mao Tse Tung Stadium, "looks like a field after World War II bombing," said Stephen Ottenbruch, a movie producer who made a documentary about Zanzibar soccer.
But for the past five days, athletes from all these feel-bad places played feel-good soccer in a feel-important stadium before thousands of German fans who graciously adopted these different, diverse sides.
"You have to understand, there are only about 30,000 people in Gibraltar, and this is the most prestigious tournament I've played in anywhere," said Roy Chipolina, a Gibraltar striker. "I probably won't get to play in a tournament this professional again."
This was no small deal for the teams, or for the creators of this tournament. The whole thing was thrown together in three months, at a cost in the high six figures for travel expenses and infrastructure. The event was boosted by a sponsorship from an on-line gambling outfit that couldn't resist the punning opportunities presented by Tibet.
In order to get the deal done, organizer Jorg Pommeranz said FiFi had to fight heavyweights the likes of FIFA and the Chinese embassy in Germany. Chinese officials sent a letter to FiFi, demanding it dis-invite Tibet. FiFi refused. Then FIFA declared it had the right to cancel these matches. FiFi fought back again. It also required some extra work getting visas for the Northern Cyprus players.
Eventually, everything came together except the weather, which was lousy. "Rain, rain, rain," Pommeranz muttered, counting gate receipts in his head.
Now, Pommeranz hopes the FiFi World will become a Hamburg tradition, perhaps as often as every year.
"Greenland wants to be host next, but they can't grow grass," Pommeranz said.
Some things never change.
Back on the field last night, Zanzibar and Northern Cyprus were taking this title match very seriously. There were as many fouls and dives as in any Italy-Argentina game. A mini-brawl broke out in the 68th minute, when a Zanzibar player was red-carded.
Finally, Ulusoy Coskun drove home the winning penalty kick for Northern Cyprus, in the tiebreaker. Players from all five nations poured onto the field for a post-match celebration.
"There will be people back home waiting to celebrate with us," said Cengiz Uzun, head of external relations for the Northern Cyprus Football Association. "We just wanted a chance to express ourselves. FIFA says it's a World Cup, but FIFA is all about money. It is inhuman to keep us out of sports."
Greek Cypriots somewhere might well disagree with that opinion, but on this evening Northern Cyprus players took turns carrying a real-life trophy high in the air. The first Wild Cup was theirs.
The crowd of about 4,000 poured out of the stadium into the St. Pauli neighborhood for another festival, the Schlager Move, an homage to something that sounded a lot like disco music.
One party ended, another began. And for once, everybody got an invitation.
Originally published on June 4, 2006