Some of the biggest stars in world football assembled in Marseilles yesterday evening to contest the fourth Match against Poverty , the annual challenge game organised by close friends Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. The two former Real Madrid team-mates are both Goodwill Ambassadors for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the yearly event is their unique way of raising money and public awareness in a bid to defeat the spectre of poverty around the world.
Following on from Basle in 2003 , Madrid in 2004 and Dusseldorf in 2005 , it was the turn of the Stade Velodrome in Marseilles to host one of the biggest nights in the charity football calendar. And what better place for the recently retired Zizou to make a return to the game? The French star was, after all, born and brought up in the southern French city and honed his delightful skills on its streets.
"I have retired from professional football, but as a UNDP ambassador I am fully committed to playing so I can support this great cause and contribute to this annual event with my great friend Ronaldo," declared the former French international, who said he had been training for the match for the last three weeks. "Coming to Marseilles is always special and so is this game. The important thing is that the fans and the players enjoyed themselves," he added.
The aim of the game is to focus attention on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000 by the leaders of 191 countries and ratified at the UN Summit in 2005. The objective is to cut poverty by half by 2015, and reduce the impact on society of hunger, illness, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women. The money raised from ticket sales will be used to fund projects selected by the UNDP in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
"This match is tremendously successful because we are projecting a very positive message all around the world," commented Ronaldo just before kick-off. "We love organising this game and we'd like to thank the players and the coaches who have come to support us by taking part."
The match itself
The jovial atmosphere on the pitch was reflected in the stands with the fans adding their vocal support throughout the encounter. They were urged on by French comic actor Jamel Debbouze, who provided a unique touchline commentary on some of the first-half action in his own inimitable style.
Ronaldo's white-shirted team carved out the first clear chances of the game, with Rivaldo and Baptista both hitting the woodwork with fierce strikes, and Victor Valdes pulling off smart saves from a Belleti header and another Rivaldo effort. Pernia then slammed a first-time drive from a fine Ramos cross against the crossbar.
Nevertheless, it was Zidane's side who opened the scoring when Luccin skilfully played in Robert on the edge of the area and the Frenchman saw his cross-shot diverted into his own net by defender Ronny. That was the only goal of the opening forty-five minutes and at half-time ex-international referee Pierluigi Collina, who has become a permanent fixture at these games, handed over the whistle to his colleague Falconi.
Both sides made changes aplenty at the break and Zidane's XI were quickest to adapt after the restart, Debbouze producing some fancy footwork in the penalty box to set up Sichi for goal number two. Zidane then played in Debbouze for the third goal, much to the delight of the crowd, and although the French funnyman looked suspiciously offside, there were no protests from Ronaldo's defence.
The Brazilian striker's side finally got on the scoresheet when Gerard fired a shot from the edge of the penalty area just past Kameni's despairing dive. With the score at 3-1, Zidane then left the pitch to a standing ovation from the crowd.
The scoring was far from over, however. Portillo pounced on a loose ball in the box to grab the fourth for Zizou's boys before Al-Jaber made it five. Former Brazilian striker Sonny Anderson pulled one back for his compatriot's side with a delicious scissor-kick in the six-yard box following a Christian pass, only for the goal-hungry Portillo to round off the scoring when he chested the ball down and flighted a perfect chip over the stranded Jehle.
The final 6-2 scoreline reflected what was an entertaining evening for all concerned. More importantly, though, this annual encounter has shown that the fight against poverty is not just a problem that involves politicians, economists and business people. If initiatives at the highest level are to succeed, then society in general must give its full and unreserved support in the battle to make poverty a thing of the past.
Zidane and Friends: (coach Michel Hidalgo) Valdes, Marquinho, Blanc, Gallas, Oli, Luccin, Cana, Waddle, Zidane, Ravanelli, Robert. (Subs: Kameni, Givet, Jamel Debbouze, Rebrov, Portillo, De Cock, Stojkovic, Al-Jaber, Sichi, Boli)
Ronaldo and Friends: (coach Vicente del Bosque) Dida, Belleti, Pernia, Sergio Ramos, Cufre, Rodrigo, Ronny, Paulo Sousa, Julio Baptista, Rivaldo, Ronaldo. (Subs: Abbondanzieri, Cayetano Rivera, Christian, Sonny Anderson, Sergio, Sukur, Gerard, Fernando Dinis, Jehle, Correa)