Brazilian soccer stars beat Chechnya's team 6-4

AP News
Posted: Mar 08, 2011 2:42 PM
Brazilian soccer stars beat Chechnya's team 6-4

Brazilian soccer legends took a 6-4 win Tuesday over a team led by Chechnya's strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, who was still the star of the friendly match played in the stadium where his father was killed in a terrorist bombing.

Kadyrov, who scored two goals of his own, strutted across the pitch at halftime in a traditional Chechen dance and fired up the packed stadium before the match with cries of "God is great."

Bebeto, Cafu, Dunga, Rai, Romario and Zetti _ all veterans of Brazil's World Cup winning side in 1994 _ were among those to travel to the blood-soaked republic in southern Russia. Bebeto scored Brazil's first and final goals.

Kadyrov said the Brazilians were not paid but came as a goodwill gesture after he and "some of his friends" helped Brazil recover from flooding. This was essentially confirmed by the Brazilians.

"There were no financial conditions, but it was understood that there would be some funds raised to help the victims of the recent floods in Brazil," Bebeto said. He refused to name the sum.

The 34-year-old Chechen leader played the entire game.

With the Brazilians up 2-1 in the 25-minute first half, Kadyrov scored an equalizer, beating Zetti one-on-one after the 46-year-old goalkeeper slipped and fell on the frost-covered pitch. Kadyrov, who missed a penalty shot in the first half, scored his second goal from another penalty shot near the end of the second half. The play was then extended for 13 extra minutes, but Chechnya's team was unable to add to the score.

Cafu and Romario also scored for Brazil, with the two remaining goals knocked in by Savio, a winger who plays for a Brazilian club.

Dunga, who coached the team, would not say whether the Brazilians purposely went easy on the host team.

"We realized that the people of the Chechen republic have not had a chance yet to see the players who were champions of the world and for us it was a great joy to get together and also give joy to the public," he said.

Kadyrov's team included active players from the local club, Terek Grozny; former players from the national teams of the Soviet Union and Russia; and former German midfielder Lothar Matthaeus, who played in five World Cups and now coaches Bulgaria.

Kadyrov said the game shows that Chechnya is recovering from war.

"They write everywhere about the killings and explosions in the Chechen republic," he told journalists after the game. "Particularly in Europe they write that Kadyrov is bad and Russia is bad, there is no normal life for the people, and we are showing today that the population of 1 million on the territory of the Chechen republic is developing sports, education and culture, and that we are building an honorable future."

The Brazilians played down the dangers of traveling to Chechnya.

"Both our countries have problems," Cafu said after the match. "By playing football we are trying to contribute to settling the problems our countries are facing."

In addition to organizing Tuesday's high-profile game, Kadyrov has just brought in former Netherlands soccer star Ruud Gullit to take over as coach of the local club. The Brazilian players wore Terek's red, green and white scarves as they emerged from Grozny's airport earlier in the day to the cheers of a couple hundred flag-waving fans.

Belgian singer Lara Fabian arrived with them to take part in a pre-match concert.

Before Tuesday's game began, Kadyrov faced the stands and cried out "Allahu akbar," or "God is great" in Arabic. The fans, who overfilled the 10,000-seat stadium, shouted the same phrase in response.

Sports can be a powerful social glue _ an assertion of national pride and a balm to war-bruised psyches _ but whether that will work in Chechnya is in doubt. Along with leading the soccer team, Kadyrov also leads a security force that is widely feared and despised, whose abuses feed an insurgency that Russia seems incapable of quelling.

Kadyrov has ruled Chechnya with an iron hand since his father was killed in the bomb blast at the stadium in May 2004. He has been strongly backed by Vladimir Putin, now Russia's prime minister after serving as president in 2000-2008. Portraits of Putin and Kadyrov are ubiquitous around Grozny, which has been largely rebuilt after being bombed into ruins during two separatist wars since 1994.

Kadyrov's feared security forces have been accused by rights groups of arbitrary arrests, torture and killings of people with suspected rebel links.

But his brutal rule has allowed him to boast of success in suppressing Islamic militants in Chechnya, which has seen two separatist wars in the past 16 years. While Chechnya is now under Kadyrov's control, the Islamic insurgency has spread throughout neighboring Caucasus republics in Russia's south.