PONTIAC – As the championship game of the 4th Annual Consular Soccer Tournament hung in the balance late with Iraq and Lebanon tied at 0-0, Iraq center Haider Jahil AlZayadi couldn't help but feel a bit nervous.
After all, AlZayadi had played with members of the opposing team on the Dearborn Stars this past summer and knew they were capable of scoring at any moment, as evidenced by the Stars' Open Division Championship in the Michigan Premier Soccer League.
But AlZayadi's teammates held off Lebanon's pressure and forced the game into penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie.
In the extra session, Mohammed Abdul Amir found the bottom left corner of the goal for what would be the eventual game winner, and Iraq took home the championship after a 3-1 win on penalty kicks, setting off a joyous celebration for coach Ali Sedti and his players.
"The celebration was amazing, it felt great but of course nothing felt better to represent your country," he said.
Iraq took home the title after emerging from a 12-team field at the Ultimate Soccer complex, a win that AlZayadi said showcased the talent or Iraqi American players.
"This is the first year we made a team, but everybody is starting to see the talent and chemistry we have together now," he said.
He added that he hopes that sponsors can be found so a permanent team can be created to give more exposure to Iraqi players' talents in the future.
Iraqi defeated Macedonia 2-0 in the semi-finals to get to the title game, where they faced a highly-skilled Lebanon team that beat Yemen by a score of 1-0.
Consul generals from the national teams, which included participants from other countries ranging from Syria to Brazil to Italy and Japan, took in the action.
Consul General of Lebanon to Detroit Houssam Diab even got a few minutes of action in a match against Spain according to Mo Hijazi of Lebanon.
Hijazi congratulated the Iraq team on their win and thanked his teammates for the experience.
Coach Sam Schaeb led the squad within a goal of the championship, a solid performance for a team many thought was one of the favorites going in.
"This is my first year being involved in the tournament and from what I know the last three or four years it's been getting bigger with more teams and becoming more competitive," Hijazi said.
Last year, Team USA won the third annual title.
Among the standouts for team Lebanon this season were Mahmoud Haidar, Nour Fouani, Hussein Dakroub, and former University of Michigan star Hamoody Saad. Hijazi thanked Susan Haidar and Haidar Bazzi of the Bint Jebail Cultural Center for helping to organize Lebanon's team.
Team Lebanon featured numerous players from local MIPSL teams Michigan Sporting and the Dearborn Stars, and scored two wins over Italy and their goal, Vito Lonigro, who helped lead the Stars to their championship.
For now, however, bragging rights go to Iraq in what is fast-becoming one of the most popular soccer tournaments in the area.
AlZayadi said the team planned to rent a party bus to show off the trophy around Dearborn on Saturday, October 15.
"For all the people who didn't know, now they know, the Iraqis have a great team with great talent and players," he said. "We want to let the whole city know."