Zheri Li is usually a Mechanical Engineering student at Northwestern, but this weekend the junior got the chance to be a part of China’s World Cup soccer team – through the International Student Association World Cup, that is.
“China’s soccer in the world is not very good,” Li said. “We don’t get a lot of chances to play in the [FIFA] World Cup, but we can play here as part of China’s team, so I’m happy about that."
Last Friday and Saturday, the ISA hosted its fourth annual World Cup as students from all parts of the world and campus converged on Northwestern’s lakeside fields, united by what Dean of Students Burgwell Howard says is a love of the game.
“You’re bringing together hundreds of students, regardless of what they study, where they live on campus, where they are from in the world,” said Howard. “It’s just great to see students celebrating where they are from and having a good time doing it.”
Nearly 500 students representing 32 countries were divided into eight four-team groups, mimicking the format of the FIFA World Cup. The tournament started with an opening ceremony featuring performances by the Northwestern University Drumline and Fusion dance group and speeches by Howard, ISA World Cup President Prajay Patel and Vice President Catherine Zhang.
Over the course of the weekend, the 32 teams were whittled down from group play to four semifinalists: U.S.A., Peru, Pakistan and South Korea. Both U.S.A. and South Korea’s quarterfinal matches were won by penalty kicks and Peru had to defeat India, the defending champion whom they met in the finals last year, in order to advance.
In the semis, U.S.A. bested Peru and Pakistan defeated South Korea to advance to the final round, but an exciting tournament fell victim to a disappointing end. Pakistan used another team’s goalie in the championship game, which ISA executives discovered in the first half. At halftime, Team U.S.A. was given the option to restart the game, which it accepted, but Pakistan chose to forfeit, giving U.S.A. the crown in an anti-climactic fashion.
While Karam Chadha, a McCormick junior and the goalkeeper for the defending champion India squad, hoped to live up to the high expectations that came with protecting a title, he still appreciated the various friendships he has fostered through the ISA World Cup and the unifying nature of the tournament.
“I love how it brings everyone together – like 500 students coming together to play,” Chadha said. “We’re competitive, but we’re playing as one Northwestern still.”
However, national identity is not a prerequisite for teams during registration and tends to be quite flexible.
James Garriga, a sophomore, played for Team Finland. But like the rest of his supposedly Scandinavian contingent, he has no Finnish ethnicity whatsoever.
“We just wanted to be someone different, you know?” said Garriga – who is parts Irish and Spanish – of his squad. “Not one of the major powerhouses that most people think of when the think of the World Cup.”
And sometimes, people don’t even get to represent their own nations.
Bruna Giberti, a senior communications studies major, is of Brazilian decent and represented Brazil with her fellow sisters of Delta Delta Delta for several years before a group of freshmen from Elder Residential Community beat her to the punch.
One member of Team Brazil would have been more than happy to cede the country to his elder counterpart, though. Eric Sadler, a Weinberg freshman, is of Argentine decent and hated the idea of playing for a national rival.
“I really did not want to be Brazil,” Sadler said, “but my teammates wanted to be Brazil for the jerseys, so I had to sacrifice my principles.”
Even though registration can get competitive – and in some cases, disappointing – the true challenge for the ISA executive team is in the three-quarter long preparation, World Cup president Prajay Patel said.
“The biggest challenge is making sure everyone is together,” the junior said. “It’s a big team of 30 people organizing it and the fact that you are organizing one single event over three quarters, it’s difficult to get people to focus on the same thing again and again.”
Once people rallied around the cause, however, coming together came naturally.
“The idea was to bring students from all over campus together with a shared passion for soccer,” said Catherine Zhang, Vice President of the ISA World Cup and Communications Studies junior. “We envision a campus where sports can bring students together.”