Saudis may surprise at 36th Nations Cup of soccer in Richmond

A total of 64 teams — men and women of all ages — line up for the football feast at Hugh Boyd this weekend

Will Saudia Arabia be the dark horse of the tournament or will perennial favourite India avenge last year’s final defeat to Ireland?

Both questions and many more will be answered this weekend when the 36th Nations Cup of soccer graces the fields of Hugh Boyd, Minoru and Manoah Steves.

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Once again the third weekend of July is all about the “Beautiful Game” in Richmond, with the first of a bonanza of top class, amateur soccer games — involving hundreds of the best players in their age groups sporting the colours of their nations of origin or heritage — kicking off Friday evening.

In the top-rated Men’s Open section, India, which last won in 2013, has been drawn in what looks like the toughest round-robin of Group C, along with Portugal, Iran and China.

However, if you’re looking for a surprise contender, Nations Cup president Jeff Wilson suggests casting your eyes towards Group B, where Saudia Arabia is being tipped as lively outsiders, matched up against the USA, Scotland and Germany.

“(Saudi Arabia) is a team that is only a recent addition in the last couple of years through qualification,” said Wilson.

“And they made it to the semi-final a couple of years ago, so they could be a team to watch out for.

“They are flying in guys from the likes of Ontario and Alberta, so they must be pretty serious about competing.”

Wilson also pointed towards the USA — represented last year by a Washington-based team — who potentially could be stronger than when it was pitched into the Nations Cup fray for the first time in 2014.

“They had been trying to get in for several years until last year. They’re a very committed organization and I think they might be a little more prepared for the standard this time around.”

After four years or so in the Nations Cup (Men’s Open) wilderness, Serbia is making a welcome return this week after Chile dropped out.

Wilson added that there was, for the first time in five years, no qualifying round, as it was felt the quality of the tournament is assured by the teams currently entered.

In the Women’s Open side, there’s a full slate of eight teams in two groups, thanks to the return of Scotland, which has been out of the frame for the last few years.

“We actually had to turn away two women’s teams, so hopefully we’re starting to get more interest in that section again, as we’ve been struggling to get the full eight,” added Wilson.

For the second year running, the Nations Cup will have three groups for the Men’s 30s and Men’s 38s sections.

The men also have a very competitive 45s and 52s section, with two groups in each age group.

The Nations Cup runs kicks off Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. at Hugh Boyd, where the beer garden will be open and culminates Sunday with the finals for all age groups from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

For the full list of games, go to www.thenationscup.com.

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