By Mark Meadows
Padania's Fabian Valtolina (R) fights for the ball with a Tibetan player during the "Freedom of the people" soccer match at the civic Arena in Milan May 7, 2008.
REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo (ITALY)
MILAN - Anthems were played and "national" flags were waved just like a normal international soccer game but on the field were teams for two countries that don't officially exist -- Padania and Tibet.
In a rickety old stadium in Milan in front of around 1,000 fans who attended for free, Italy's Padania geared up for July's World Cup of unrecognised nations by overpowering Tibet 13-2 in an exhibition soccer match on Wednesday.
The separatist Northern League, a junior partner of Italian prime minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi, made gains in parliamentary elections last month and wants to declare the rich north a sovereign republic under the name Padania.
In December, the Padania Football Association was the latest to join the NF Board, a governing body for those who dream of playing soccer for their country even though their nations don't officially exist.
States with breakaway movements or regions unsure of their status are all welcomed at the NF Board, which has 27 members including Tibet, Greenland, Zanzibar, Chechnya and Monaco.
The NF Board, separate from soccer's governing body FIFA, has no political motives despite some of its members being involved in bloody struggles for independence.
"We don't want to draw new frontiers. We just want to play football with new identities," NF Board founder Jean-Luc Kit told Reuters.
"We have to respect FIFA and the United Nations. In return they understand our concept."
FIFA allows England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to compete as separate nations while the likes of Palestine and the Faroe Islands are members.
NF, an acronym which originally stood for nothing but now means New Federation or unofficially "Non-FIFA", was set up in 2003 to accommodate regions that were not affiliated to FIFA.
The second Viva World Cup for unrecognised countries takes place in Lapland from July 7-13 with Provence, Kurdistan and possibly Gozo, the island off Malta, also among the entrants.
"We have a Norwegian player who doesn't want to play for Norway and prefers to play for Lapland, it's a crazy situation," added Kit, who was a soccer statistician working with FIFA before coming up with the idea for the NF Board.
Organisers hope the first World Cup game in Lapland can be played under the midnight sun.
The weather was also perfect at Milan's Arena for the "freedom of the people" match between Padania and Tibet, whose team was made up of exiles from the region controlled by China.
Tibet's soccer federation is based in India but the NF Board does not quibble and leaves it up to each individual association to decide which players are eligible.
The Northen League's leader Umberto Bossi was in attendance to see Padania, in their traditional green colours, completely outplay Tibet thanks to a number of players who used to be in Italy's professional league.
The new team are fast becoming favourites for Lapland.