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Rediff.com  » Sports » Mandela's birthday match ends in 3-3 draw

Mandela's birthday match ends in 3-3 draw

July 19, 2007 16:39 IST

Samuel Eto'o and Brazilian football legend Pele Nelson Mandela's 89th birthday was celebrated on Wednesday with a charity match in which an African XI drew 3-3 with a Rest of the World team.

Former South African president Mandela, who has dedicated his life to the promotion of human rights and democracy, was honoured by the "90 Minutes for Mandela" all-star game.

Three-time African player of the year, Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o led his team on to the field at the Newlands Rugby stadium and the 35,400 crowd sang 'Happy Birthday' to Mandela.

The match was kicked-off by Brazil great Pele using a ball signed by "Madiba", Mandela's clan name by which he is affectionately known in South Africa.

Mandela could not attend the match but was no doubt delighted by the turnout, helped by the presence of former internationals like Dutchman Ruud Gullit and Frenchman Christian Karembeu, with the proceeds going to the Mandela Foundation.

"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," the former statesman said in a recorded message.

"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," he added on the giant screen.

UNIQUE MATCH

FIFA president Sepp Blatter also recorded a message, saying: "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."

Danny Jordaan, head of South Africa's 2010 World Cup Organising Committee, said: "Nelson Mandela has given more than his fair share to this country and continent and with 90 Minutes for Mandela, we are asking him to play into extra time as it were.

"He has inspired us all to not only think of ourselves and he has inspired new hope for his country and continent."

FIFA also used the match to pay tribute to Mandela's former fellow-inmates at the apartheid-era Robben Island prison who formed a soccer league called the Makana Football Association.

Mandela, who was South Africa's first president after democratic elections in 1994, said the Makana FA drew prisoners together and helped uphold values of tolerance, inclusiveness and reconciliation.

Mandela was housed in the prison's isolation wing and never had the opportunity to play in or watch any of the games.

A FIFA ceremony on Robben Island, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in captivity, a few hours before Wednesday's match, granted honorary membership status to the Makana FA.

Organisers said proceeds from the charity match will be earmarked for social programmes including Mandela's 46664 global HIV/AIDS campaign -- named after his inmate number.

Mandela is the first person to have two FIFA games played in his honour. The first match was held in August 1999 to mark the end of his presidency.He is also a keen sports fan and played a key role in South Africa's bid to host the 2010 World Cup, the first time the competition will be held in Africa.

Image:  Three-time African player of the year, Cameroon's acknowledge the applause of the crowd during the '90 Minutes for Mandela' match between an Africa XI and a Rest of the World XI at Newland stadium, in Cape Town, South Africa.

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