Tuesday night saw some of the top footballing stars on our very doorstep. They had come for a cause — to help the Friends of Libya's Children that seeks to assist suffering children in Libya following the ousting of its leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The exhibition match brought in the crowds as nearly 5,000 fans came and cheered the stars of yesteryear as they put on a show worth remembering at the Al Ahli Club. And to make it even more endearing, Mustafa Ahmad Jalil, the Chairman of the National Transitional Council of Libya, and as such the head of state in Libya's caretaker government, came in to hand over the winner's trophy at the end of the match.
The match in itself had all the ingredients of a hands-on lesson in how to play the beautiful game. Good ball control, steady flow of passes, assertive play up front — all to keep the crowd entertained.
For the record, the Coca-Cola team led by organiser and former Libyan national team player Jihad Mountessir had Javier Zanetti, Robert Pires, Marco Materazzi, Pavel Nedved and Jan Koller in its ranks, while Fabio Cannavaro's ADIB team had Hidetoshi Nakata, El-Hadji Diouf, Luis Jimenez, Nicky Butt and Hernan Crespo on the pitch, while his former coach Marcelo Lippi sat in as coach.
And though there was good action on the pitch, there was something missing off the field.
At the pre-match press conference — scheduled for 6.30pm but eventually starting nearly two hours later — was Nakata, Materazzi, Crespo and Cannavaro. These players were willing to speak, but only about the match! Once it was over there was a scramble to get players to speak about themselves, their careers and their contribution to the game, but all rushed to the dressing rooms to get ready for kick-off that eventually came at 9.15pm. The media was left feeling uneasy. I thought, "maybe I will be able to speak to a few of these players after the match." But most seemed to dodge reporters who waited and by the time it was over it was well past midnight. Was it worth the wait? Yes, for the sake of the cause, yes, for the beautiful game, but definitely ‘no' for trying to get these greats to speak for their fans in this part of the world.