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
Perhaps appropriately, in a game honoring 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 honor," he said.
"This match is more than just a game; it symbolizes 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
honor 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.
Savored the occasion
Eto'o savored the occasion, telling the Fifa website, "I got the opportunity
today to realize 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."
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