Soccer legends salute Mandela
Brad Morgan19 July 2007
Around 35 000 spectators were treated to a high-scoring clash between an African XI and a World XI at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town on Wednesday night in the "90 Minutes for Mandela" football match celebrating the 89th birthday of former South African president Nelson Mandela.
Perhaps appropriately, in a game honouring a man who broadcasts a message of equality for all, the spoils were shared as the sides played to a 3-3 draw.
Although he could not attend the match, Mandela, who met with a number of famous world figures in Johannesburg on the day, recorded a message which was broadcast over the big screen at the ground.
'An extra special birthday'
"Today is indeed an extra special birthday for me, as I have been given this wonderful gift of a football match played in my honour," he said.
"This match is more than just a game; it symbolises the power of football to bring people together from all over the world, regardless of the language they speak or the colour of their skin."
Mandela had already been kitted out for the match on Tuesday when Brazilian legend Pelé, three-time African player of the year Samuel Eto'o, and Fifa Vice-President Jack Warner presented him with an official jersey to commemorate the contest. It featured Mandela's name and the number 89 on the back, while the front featured the 46664 campaign to raise global awareness about HIV/Aids.
A message from Fifa President Sepp Blatter was also played before the game. He said: "It is a real pleasure to be able to stage this unique match to honour someone who has dedicated his lifetime to the promotion of human rights and democracy, and who has led the endless fight for freedom not only of his people, the South Africans, but of all mankind."
Pelé started the match by kicking off with a ball signed by "Madiba", the name by which Mandela is affectionately known. However, at age 66, Pelé didn't take an active part in the game.
Liberian ace George Weah, although not the young and fit star he once was, showed that he still had the skills, and a touch of pace, when in the first minute he left the World XI's defence for dead and beat goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta with a delicate chip. Unfortunately for Weah, his shot failed to get the better of the upright and he failed to score.
It was the World XI who were first on the scoreboard through Ivan Zamorrano after only six minutes. Emilio Butragueno - "The Vulture" - carved open the African defence with a beautifully weighted through ball. Ruud Gullit, out wide on the right, then centred a perfect cross for Zamorrano to easily beat Andre Arendse with a header.
It didn't take the African XI long to respond. Eto'o, Kalusha Bwalya and Abedi Pelé combined before Pelé put the finishing touch to a well placed cross from Eto'o.
With 30 minutes played, the Africans took the lead through Egypt's Hossam Hassan, the world record holder with 167 international caps. Tunisian Zoubair Baya set him up, showing fine touch on his pass, and Hassan did the rest, exhibiting the finishing skills that brought him 80 goals for his country.
The World XI drew level once more just before the halftime whistle, with Butragueno and Gullit involved again, along with Iran's Ali Daei. Butragueno and Daei did the setting up and Gullit the finishing to send the teams into the break all square at 2-2.
The African XI had the better of the going in the first half, but Spain's most capped player of all time, goalkeeper Zubizarreta, showed why he had won so many caps, denying Eto'o time after time to keep the World XI in the game.
Hassan, though, had found a way through in the first half, and he was in the right place at the right time early in the second half, to put Africa 3-2 in front.
The World XI kept pressing for the equaliser and were eventually rewarded when Spain's Julen Guerrero found the back of the net in the 73rd minute.
3-3, and that's how it ended.
Savoured the occasion
Eto'o savoured the occasion, telling the Fifa website, "I got the opportunity today to realise a dream to be on the same field as Pelé - a legend, a giant. And I also got to play next to great players like Ruud Gullit, my great friends and my seniors.
"It was also a dream to sit next to Pelé, to be able to talk to him, and meet Nelson Mandela with him. You don't often get the chance to do things like that. It's really incredible," Eto'o said.
George Weah, too, appreciated the occasion, saying: "To play for Mandela was the greatest thing that could have happened to me. I was here. I was present. I got my souvenir and I am so happy to have been part of the festivities."