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International Team are Local Champions

The season is over, but the border-beating bond between a group of international footballers is set to kick on well after the final whistle.

A local team consisting of NMIT students from Asia, South America, Europe as well as the city's refugee population has been confirmed as winners of the Nelson Bays Division Three league competition.

Led by Nelson-based footballers Constantin Graf and Neil Benson – originally from Germany and the United State respectively – the team was unbeaten through 14 matches this season, winning 12 and drawing two games. The team scored 48 goals and conceded just 17 for an impressive goal difference of 31.

An NMIT football team comprised of refugees and international students has been crowned league champions after winning the Nelson Bays Division Three Mens competition.

As they seek to make social contacts away from their home country, the team has won friends on and off the football pitch.

"Even when we realised we had the league won, the guys were still giving it their all because they wanted to keep winning," Benson said.

Despite several of their roster returning to their country of origin mid-season, the team also made the semi-final of the subsequent knock-out cup competition, before losing on penalties.

Benson, an IT lecturer at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, said the team was established two seasons ago to create a safe place for the students and migrants to learn about NZ football culture, connect with others, reduce cultural barriers and settle into life in Nelson.

An NMIT-based football team comprised of refugees and international students was undefeated over 14 league games, and reached the semi-final of the subsequent knock-out tournament.

He said no matter how the season panned out, the experience of forging a social outlet between the players themselves and the wider community had been a worthwhile undertaking.

"It has been special opportunity for the boys to be able to represent NMIT. It is a team that embraces anyone who wants to play football and in doing so we have ended up with a very talented young team that incorporates many different cultures in the one squad," Benson said.

"I am proud to be a part of it ... it's been a very special time for us all."

With the support of FC Nelson and Red Cross, Graf, Benson and coach Patrick Doherty hoped to keep the team alive next season and beyond.

He was already aware of at least one player who had extended his studies to continue playing for the team next year.

This article was originally published by Stuff.

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