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Norwich - It wasn't the World Cup, but the five teams that participated in Saturday's first Norwich Cup of Nations soccer tournament demonstrated their passion for the game and the camaraderie it brings them in the daylong event at Raymond Ouellet Park in Taftville.
"It would be great if they do it every year," said Irving Belliza, 25, of the Peruvian team. "Twice a year. That would be fine. The more the better it gets."
The tournament was organized by Peniel Church of Norwich, which does plan to make the event an annual affair, perhaps expanding to more participating teams and youth divisions as well, coordinator Adam Bowles said.
Bowles said the church has been trying to reach out to the many nationalities now represented in Norwich's population and learned that other churches in cities such as Houston, St. Louis, San Jose and Toronto sponsor soccer tournaments.
It didn't take long for the teams and the program to come together. Teams representing nationalities of Cape Verde, Haiti, the United States, Central America and Peru competed. The Norwich Cape Verdean Boys team came equipped with bright blue and gold uniforms. Peniel provided uniform shirts for the other teams.
"Everybody's passionate about soccer," Bowles said. "The Cape Verdeans are more serious. They play regularly."
Team Peru also boasts a regular schedule, with games in Montville, Norwich, New London and elsewhere in the region. That steady play and conditioning likely benefited both teams, as they squared off in the championship game, won by Cape Verde. Team members received medals that said: "2014 Cup of Nations - Peniel Church."
But early on, the Cape Verdean team needed overtime penalty kicks to knock off the U.S. team fielded by the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Norwich.
Tony Correia, 25, of Norwich, a striker on the Cape Verdean team, said the team has been in existence for many years and competes in Cape Verde festivals in Bridgeport and Waterbury and in pick-up games throughout the region.
Correia offered to help expand the event in the future. He is a certified soccer referee and said he would help officiate as well as play. He loves the idea of adding a youth division to the tournament.
"I've been living in Norwich for 11 years, and this is the first event that's been organized in Norwich," Correia said. "I'm loving this."