Just a few days after a Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid victory over Barcelona that brought the team one step closer to clinching Spain’s La Liga title, the footballers at NYUAD took to the field for a Clásico of their own — minus all the hair gel. At Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City (where the crowds attending a coinciding regional cup final were momentarily mistaken by a few students as fans of the NYUAD team), the night had all the makings of an occasion to be remembered. Over the course of 90 minutes, the Class of 2014 and the Class of 2015 battled it out for the right to be crowned the champions of the University’s very first interCLASSico Cup. The prize? Unparalleled glory (and a shiny trophy to boot).
In organizing the game, the NYUAD community did not disappoint. The adrenaline was running high, with Gatorades and Red Bulls being consumed by the dozen, and when the teams emerged onto the field, greeted by the applause of a commendable turnout of supporters, the stage had been set for an absolute spectacle.
For many of the sophomore players, the match was the last one they would play together as a team before jetting off to their study-abroad sites next year. The match, for them, came to stand for so much more than just a one-off friendly.
“The game felt like a reunion of sorts,” sophomore Mohammed Omer said. “These people are my friends, my teammates, the people I’ve been playing with all year. We’re a family.”
At the game's kick-off, however, all friendships were set aside as the players gave everything they had on the pitch. The game was fiercely competed, with each team struggling to gain the upper hand. After 30 minutes of non-stop action, freshman Suhaib Mohaidat finally made a breakthrough, tapping the ball into the goal from short range after a pass from teammate Ilya Bozhenkov, who had broken through the defense.
Freshman goalkeeper Brandon Wahba managed some athletic saves to deny the sophomores a goal, but shortly after halftime, Omer equalized the score in spectacular fashion, getting on the end of a through-ball and knocking it into the goal with a measured side-foot sweep. Just as the game was looking like it might result in a tie, Mohaidat deservedly scored his second goal to cinch the the game for the freshman team.
Anteneh Taferi, captain of the freshman team, was all smiles after the game. “I am so proud of everyone. Our sophomores have been our role models, and we are extremely sad to see them go. It has truly been an unforgettable night!”
When the two teams came forward for the final handshakes after the game, it was clear that winning was the last thing on anyone’s mind. The event had lived up to its hype, and most importantly, helped pay homage to the sophomores who had been instrumental in making the NYUAD football team so competitive over the past two years.
As Coach Dicce always says, football is about relationships — 20 years down the line, we won’t remember the score, but we will remember the team members with whom we shared these moments.