The end of NYU Abu Dhabi's second successful January Term saw 17 students, three coaches, and two support members travel to India to represent the NYUAD Varsity Football team in friendly matches against the country's best educational institutions. In an attempt to carry on the legacy of building sportsmanship while exploring new cultures — originally initiated by the University's inaugural class with its trip to Qatar in January 2011 — the team experienced four days of victory and defeat, not only deepening the familial bond amongst the players, but also connecting through sport a team comprised of 10 nationalities to players belonging to one of the most diverse nations in the world.
After making their way to India, with some players joining directly from J-Term in Shanghai, the team then travelled to Gwalior to play against the Scindia School's senior team. This posed a challenge, not only because the NYUAD players had travelled all day, but also because they were unaccustomed to playing on hard ground. The Scindia School took an early lead by a header scored from a corner kick. Undeterred, NYUAD played hard, attacked, and dominated most of the game, but unfortunately was not able to convert the beautifully engineered plays into goals. Despite the on-pitch rivalry, the team was invited that evening to an exquisite dinner at the residence of the Dean of Scindia School.
Early the next morning, the players faced off against Jiwaji University, also in Gwalior. The team strategy was the same as in the prior game, but this time, the match took place on a turf that was similar to the one the players were accustomed to practicing on. Captain Ilya Bozhenkov (NYUAD '15) engineered the first goal by singlehandedly taking on the entire Jiwaji University defense and ultimately passing the ball to Juma Joseph (NYUAD '14) who was in a better position to score. The next two goals were scored by Manuel Nivia (NYUAD '14), one of the most experienced players on the team. Joseph then scored the final goal of the match, ensuring a 4-1 win against one of the most competitive teams in the region. After the match, defender Abhishek Mehra (that's me, NYUAD '14), midfielder Mohit Mandal (NYUAD '15), Bozhenkov, and midfielder Gabriel "Gabo" Burgazzi (NYUAD '15) were asked by the cheerleaders of Jiwaji University to get individual pictures taken with them. This ensured that the four players had smiles on their faces for the rest of the day.
The team experienced four days of victory and defeat, not only deepening the familial bond amongst the players, but also connecting through sport a team comprised of 10 nationalities to players belonging to one of the most diverse nations in the world.
The team then traveled from Gwalior to New Delhi, where their opponent was Delhi Public School R.K. Puram (DPS). The NYUAD team, determined to play hard, gave its best by making sure it had possession of the ball. And NYUAD dominated for most of the game, with Ty Karaba (NYUAD '14), Anteneh Teferi (NYUAD '15), and Mehra holding a strong defense line. NYUAD had several opportunities to score, but missed the goal thrice by a cat's whisker. Ultimately, Indian National Team star Ajitabh Singh, who also plays for DPS, scored a marvelous game-winning header in the final minutes of the match.
Without losing heart, the team prepared for its final match against the highly skilled American Embassy School. Suhaib Mohaidat (NYUAD '15) took an optimistic chance at goal and NYUAD drew the match.
Despite playing four games in four days, the team still had time to experience the local culture and take in some sights. In addition to visits to the Taj Mahal (which rendered the group speechless with its magnificence, and afforded a once in a lifetime opportunity for members of the group to pray in the historical mosque nearby) and the Red Fort, the players enjoyed a traditional home-cooked meal at Mehra's home and lunch at the Gulati Restaurant, famous worldwide for its delicious butter chicken.
On arrival back in Abu Dhabi, the team marveled at the Indian hospitality it had received. And Coach Peter Dicce gave the team one last pep talk, reminding the players to let their soccer do the talking and sharing how appreciative he was to see that the members of the NYUAD Varsity Football team cared for each other, forming a security net not only on the field but in day-to-day life as well.