Gampola Zahira win inaugural ThePapare Football Championship UAE 2023

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The first edition of ThePapare Football Championship UAE, was held on the 19th of August 2023, at Star International Football Grounds, Dubai, with the participation of 14 Sri Lankan Old Boy school teams who battled it out for the ultimate trophy. After a hard-fought tussle in the final, Gampola Zahira emerged victorious by beating the favourites, St. Mary’s College, 3 – 2, with a late surge in the second half.

The Sri Lankan community in the UAE is growing at a rapid pace, with over 350,000 Sri Lankans now calling the UAE their second home. As the number of Lankans keep increasing, quality Sri Lankan events are highly in demand on Emirati soil. ThePapare recognized this need and stepped in after identifying that many Sri Lankan Football enthusiasts reside in the UAE, decided to host a one-of-a-kind Football Sevens tourney to bring together the Sri Lankan Football fraternity in the UAE.

Along with Finwin Events, a subsidiary of the Finwin Group in the UAE and Sri Lanka, ThePapare hosted one of the most competitive and engaging Football tournaments that Sri Lankans in Dubai had seen in a while. With live food stations, live music and kids play areas, the tournament emanated a carnival atmosphere.

The tournament also got on board Emirates Logistics LLC, a leading freight forwarding company that provides logistical solutions from Dubai to Sri Lanka and around the world, along with Thambapanni Al Nahda Sharjah as the official Food and Beverage partner, Life Medical & Clinic as the official Healthcare partner, Chaiwala Colombo in Dubai as the Refreshments partner, AGT as the Accessories partner and LaabaiLaabai.lk as the official Electronics partner.

Teams played under two categories – Youth and Masters (Over 40). Each category had two groups, A and B, where teams battled it out for the top two positions in order to qualify for the second round. Accordingly, Mawanella Zahira qualified to the playoffs as the only unbeaten team as well as the team with the most points, followed by St. Mary’s College – Blue, Gampola Zahira, and St. Mary’s – White, respectively.

However, after losing out in the first qualifier to St. Mary’s College – Blue, Mawanella Zahira had to play against Gampola Zahira, who made it to the second qualifier after beating St. Mary’s – White in the eliminator. After a thrilling penalty shootout, Gampola Zahira emerged victorious courtesy of a save from their Skipper, Nafees, who took his team to the Final against St. Mary’s – Blue.

In the Masters category, Zahira College, Colombo secured third place, whilst St. Mary’s Masters and the 50+ Combined Team locked horns in the Final. That too, after a nail biting penalty shootout, saw the 50+ veterans clinch the Championship trophy in the Masters category, surprising everyone.

The Grand Final was played between St. Mary’s – Blue and Gampola Zahira amidst a packed crowd right at the stroke of midnight, making it all the more interesting. St. Mary’s – Blue stole the show by scoring 2 consecutive goals within the first 5 minutes of the game, making it seem like they were cruising towards a victory. However, the Gampola Zahirians did not lose heart or let the Marians hang on to the momentum they had created, scoring a goal at the brink of Halftime, keeping the hopes alive. As the final 4 minutes approached, the Marians were dominating with possession and territory, but the never-give-up attitude of the Gampola Zahirians saw them through an intercept and counter attack – they struck back with back-to-back goals, giving them a 1-goal lead in the last minute of the match. Despite the efforts of the Marians in the last minute, the Gampola Zahirians managed to hold off the men in blue as they fell on their knees to the sound of the final whistle, celebrating their triumph in the inaugural ThePapare Football Championship.

The Champions received the trophy from H.E. Hon. Alexi Gunasekara, Consulate General of Sri Lanka to Dubai and Northern Emirates, and Mr. Ali Baluchi, the Regional Manager of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. The Skipper of Gampola Zahira, Nafees, received the Golden Glove award, whilst his team mate, Naveen, was adjudged the Player of the Tournament. M. Raizul from St. Mary’s College received the Golden Boot award after scoring 6 goals in the tournament. In the Masters category, Kaamil and Linka from the St. Mary’s Masters team and Rifky from the 50+ Combined team received the Golden Boot, Player of the Tournament and Golden Glove awards respectively.

The event came to a close as all the participants and Sri Lankans gathered along with H.E. the Consulate General to chant ‘Sri Lanka’ and end the event on a positive note.