A team from Northern Ireland had a ball at the Unity Euro Cup 2023 tournament held in Germany.
The competition, run by UEFA and UNHCR - the UN Refugee Agency, was aimed at supporting refugee access to sport and enhancing social inclusion.
Sixteen teams competed, representing Northern Ireland, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and the European Union.
Northern Ireland, making their first appearance at the tournament, were drawn in Group C along with Belgium, Malta and Republic of Ireland.
In their opening game they were defeated 2-0 by the Maltese, while they lost 3-1 against the Republic in their second match, Paul Maguire grabbing the consolation goal.
Their third and final group game was more productive. Maguire scored twice as they defeated the Belgians by four goals to one. The other scorers were Matthew Devine and Kirsty Cameron.
In the second round of matches they faced Switzerland and were narrowly defeated 3-2. Maguire was on target once again along with Abdel-Karim Kanno. The result meant Northern Ireland finished 11th overall.
Group matches in the seven-a-side tournament, involving more than 170 players from refugee and host communities, were staged at the home of SC Weiss-Blau in Frankfurt.
The final, in which Finland defeated Republic of Ireland 2-1, was played at the DFB (German FA) Campus in Frankfurt.
Each squad was composed of eight refugee players and three non-refugee amateur players, including at least two women.
UEFA said the event represented an important opportunity to raise awareness of the power of football in breaking down barriers and creating a spirit of inclusion.
Sixteen ambassadors were on hand to support their teams. Northern Ireland assistant manager and former international player Jimmy Nicholl was Northern Ireland’s ambassador.
Northern Ireland head coach Andy Hardy said: “It was amazing to be able to take part in the Unity Euro Cup. Having a tournament like this which celebrates our refugee community and gives them the chance to represent Northern Ireland is incredible.
“Playing alongside amateur players from Northern Ireland was a great step towards integration for the refugees. The tournament provided wonderful memories that will last a lifetime.”
Hardy thanked the support provided by the backroom staff of John Marshall, Jahswill Emmanuel, Caoimhe Callaghan and by the team ambassador, Jimmy Nicholl.
As part of the UEFA Football Sustainability Strategy 2030, UEFA actively promotes the integration of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced individuals across Europe through football.
The Irish FA Foundation continues to work with refugees and asylum seekers in Northern Ireland through many programmes, including recreational football, a kit donation scheme, KickOff@3 tournament, Stay Onside, Fresh Start Through Sport and the United Nations ‘Game Changer’ programme.
Northern Ireland squad at UEFA/UNHCR Unity Euro Cup 2023: Matthew Devine, Paul Maguire, Kirsty Cameron, Alex Ekhiliyar, Huseini Semire, Ehasn Ranjbar, Mustafa Zehhawi, Mary Edonga, Mustafa Mohamed Eid Kanno, Abdel-Karim Mohamed Eid Kanno, Fatah Alrahman Ahmed Eljailani.