Legends roll back the years to dazzle Doha

  • FIFA Arab Legends and FIFA World Legends faced off in a unique match

  • Fun and fine football abounded in front of fans at Al Thumama Stadium

  • Pirlo, Matthaus, Mascherano and Al-Jaber among the stars who relished the experience

“Tonight we unite the Arab world with the entire world,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino announced to the crowd. “We are all one team!” And as always, football was the great unifier.

A very special match, contested between FIFA Arab Legends and FIFA World Legends, was the occasion for which 3,500 fans had gathered at the spectacular Al Thumama Stadium on the eve of the FIFA Arab Cup final. Those fans were, indeed, the first to be thanked by Gianni Infantino before he went on in his address on to pay tribute to the players, match officials and “all the people who make football truly magic”.

“Enjoy the evening and have fun,” the FIFA President concluded, having taken the microphone ahead of the game kicking off. And for those on and off the field, there was never going to be any other outcome. The supporters roared their appreciation for the teams, which were packed full of stars from past FIFA World Cups, and were treated to a few familiar and much-loved sights once the action got underway.

Whether it was Andrea Pirlo caressing effortless passes, Javier Mascherano snapping into timely interceptions, Cafu and Mehdi Mahdavikia charging up and down their respective right touchlines or Lothar Matthaus, at 60, still pulling the strings, there was so much to soak in and savour. The Legends, too, evidently relished the experience of playing in picture-perfect conditions in front of an appreciative crowd, with fellow icons on all sides.

Fun… and a fightback

“You look around the team - there are definitely a lot of World Cup winners and Champions League winners out there,” enthused Matthaus. “And the atmosphere between footballers is always the same. It’s great fun to come together.”

The scenes on the team buses and dressing rooms bore that out, with laughing, fist-pumping and mickey-tacking aplenty as FIFA Legends from across the world made the most of this unique experience.

That was evident from the outset, although it looked for a time that the FIFA World Legends – perhaps unsurprisingly, with a team boasting world champions from four different nationalities – were establishing an unassailable lead. But if the ongoing FIFA Arab Cup has taught us anything, it’s that players in this region keep going until the final minute and beyond and, sure enough, the FIFA Arab Legends battled back valiantly before triumphing on penalties. A timely taster

That sense of the appetite having been whetted, both by the FIFA Arab Cup and tonight’s FIFA Legends match – in which the FIFA President played a half for each team - was evident from all the players present. “It’s going to be a really nice World Cup,” said the recently retired Mascherano, who played in four editions of the tournament. “The stadiums are all amazing, the environment is great and the people are very kind too. Players will love playing here. It’s been a while since I stepped on a pitch but I really enjoyed being out on that grass tonight.”

“The difficult thing on a pitch like that one is to play badly,” Nuno Gomes agreed, laughing. “For a footballer, the conditions are as good as you will find. I think all of us out there wish we had one more World Cup in us to play.” Matthaus, of course, has participated in five of them – more than any other man in history – and the Germany legend has already made his plans for next November and December. “I’ll be back for sure, though unfortunately not to play, because it is such a nice environment,” he told FIFA.com. “I remember one of my World Cups in Mexico, with temperatures over 40 degrees, and conditions here could not be more different. It’s ideal for good football.” The FIFA Arab Legends and FIFA World Legends certainly produced plenty of that, along with more than a few lighter moments. As an appetiser for Saturday’s FIFA Arab Cup final between Tunisia and Algeria, and a reminder of what awaits fans and players next year, this all-star encounter could hardly have been more uplifting.

FIFA Arab Legends: AL HABSI Ali (GK) ; AL HOSANI Emad; AL JABER Sami; AL TEMYAT Nawaf AL KHATEB Feras ; GOMAA Wael; KHARJA Houssine; MAHDAVIKIA Mehdi; MAHMOUD Younis; SAADON Mohammed; INFANTINO Gianni; LAFOUI Rabii ; QUOTOB Wessam; SAUD AL SHAMMARI Saad Sattam ; MONTESIN Fabio ; KHAYAT Nadir (RedOne) Manager / Coach: AMMOUTA Hussein FIFA World Legends: ANGEL Juan Pablo; CAFU; CAHILL Tim; DANILEVICIUS Tomas ; DESAILLY Marcel; DJORKAEFF Youri; HERNANDEZ Luis; INFANTINO Gianni; KAREMBEU Christian; MASCHERANO Javier; MATTHAEUS Lothar; MOTSEPE Patrice; NUNO GOMES; PIRLO Andrea; SAMOURA Amadou; TOURE Yaya; ZUBERBUEHLER Pascal (GK) Manager / Coach: GRANT Avram Match officials: BUSACCA Massimo; COLLINA Pierluigi