Away from the tension of the European Beach Soccer League 2007 Superfinal, the reigning continental champions from Spain gave a touching display of their compassion and goodwill on Thursday. Not scheduled to play, the squad took time to visit youngsters, all aged under 30, at the Foyer de vie de l'Astrée care home for the mentally disabled in Marseille.
Split into two teams and joined by residents of the home, the European title-holders gave a quick lesson in the rudiments of beach soccer, before launching themselves into a highly-charged match. The score at the end hardly mattered, of course, and everyone involved came away with memories to cherish.
"I've always believed it's important for athletes like us to come to the aid of people in difficulty," Spain star Amarelle told FIFA.com afterwards. "If we were at all able to help by spending this time with them, I'd be the happiest man alive. I know how much joy sport can bring to these youngsters. It's not asking much for us to be available for them."
Beyond the simple thrill of kicking a ball with some of the best players on the planet, the youngsters profited from the experience in far more profound ways. As Magalie, the carer in charge of the group, put it: "To be absolutely honest, few of them realise who they're playing with, but taking part in this type of match helps develop their sense of competition and awakens dormant brain cells. Added to that, this will work wonders psychologically, in terms of making them realise that they too can take part in sports, just like everyone else. It prevents them from feeling even more marginalized."
All in all, the day provided yet another heart-warming example of the beneficial role football can play in society.