Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 April 2009
Issue No. 941
Sports
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Trophy tour

The UEFA Champions League cup visits Africa for the first time, reports Ghada Abdel-Kader

Click to view caption
Ramzi with the UEFA trophy

The UEFA trophy came to Egypt to share the unique experience with fans of every continent. The trophy was unveiled on 26 March at a press conference for media, trade partners and business associates at the Nile Maxime in Zamalek, it concluded with a mega event on Saturday, a dazzling party especially created at the pyramids area. UEFA media relations director Andrin Cooper said, "Egypt has always been one of the traditional giants of African football, and Cairo, apart from being a football-mad city, is the home of the African football Confederation (CAF)."

Egypt's football fans celebrated the iconic trophy of the UEFA Champions League in a unique experience, enjoying some moments with the famous trophy and memorabilia exhibiting unique items and belongings of UEFA players and referees. "We are delighted to be giving thousands of Egyptian football fans a chance to come close to the trophy to see it and feel it at the pyramids in Giza. May be one day an Egyptian will hold the trophy in his own hands," added Cooper.

Winning the UEFA Champions League is the ultimate way for clubs and players to guarantee their place in history. In recent years, gifted Africans have had a growing influence on the competition, so much so that a total of 47 Africans played in the group stage of the 2008/09 tournament. The Liberian striker George Weah was the first African to become top scorer, eight goals playing for Paris Saint-Germain FC in 1994/95. Players from Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe have won the European Champion Clubs' Cup. Winning clubs consistently rely on African talent.

The UEFA Champions League trophy is undoubtedly the most sought- after piece of silverware in football. This after all is the trophy that has been lifted by Alfredo Di Stéfano, Johan Cruyff, Eusèbio, Franz Beckenbauer, Zinédine Zidane, David Beckham and Ronaldinho, true living legends of the game.

It is the first time for the trophy to be seen in Africa after touring Latin America and Asia in the past two years, bringing passionate fans together from all walks of life. Fans from Asia and Latin America have already enjoyed their moment with this famous trophy. Last season's tour of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico allowed more than 50,000 fans the chance to see the trophy in the flesh. At each venue, the trophy has a special UEFA player accompanying the tour as the official UEFA ambassador participating in the unveiling ceremony. The distinguished football player is chosen as the official UEFA Champions League trophy tour ambassador with well known names such as Bebeto, Giovane Elber, Fernando Redondo and Jorge Campos teaming up to welcome fans and media.

The first stop for the 2009 trophy tour was the Nigerian Capital,Lagos, from 26- 28 February. The ambassador was Celestine Babayaro who went into UEFA Champions League history by appearing for RSC Anderlecht against FC Steaua in Bucharest on 23 November 1994 at the age of 16 years and 87 days. His record as the competition youngest-ever competitor still stands today. Before continuing his UEFA Champions League career with Chelsea FC, Babayaro had helped Nigeria to win the soccer gold medals at the 1996 Olympics.

The second venue was Algeria where the trophy was welcomed by fans on 11-12 March with none other than Rabah Madjer acting as ambassador.The Algerian international attacker was champion of Europe in 1987 and made headlines with his audacious back heeled equaliser for FC Porto and turned provider for the winning goal in the Vienna final where the Portuguese came back to beat FC Bayern Munich 2-1 and lift the trophy for the first time. Porto went on to take the UEFA Super Cup and score the winner in the European-South American final in Japan.

The trophy tour then headed for Egypt from 26-28 March. Former national team defender Hani Ramzi took the baton as ambassador. The classy central defender who made an impact at the 1990 FIFA World Cup and went on to accumulate 124 caps, played UEFA Champions League football at FC Kaiserslautern, under Otto Rehhagel.

Ramzi was the first African defender to be publicly compared with European greats such as Franz Beckenbauer and Bobby Moore. He possessed class and defensive talents. He was first Egyptian player to compete in six successive editions of the Africa Cup of Nations between 1992 and 2002, picking up a gold medal at the 1998 finals. In the ACN he was named best libero and sixth best defensive midfielder. He was ranked 19th in the list of best African players of the last half-century.

"I am honoured to be the UEFA ambassador here in Egypt. I hope one day an Egyptian player will hold this cup," added Ramzi.

"I tell the child of Egypt or Africa the dream is not far from us. We can reach it."

"We are trying to expand the reach of what is very special about the competition and give fans around a world a chance to get closer to it," Cooper said. "Africa made a great contribution to the Champions League. Fifty players from Africa compete in the tournament this season. Many of whom in past years won the competition made a huge contribution."

South Africa, the host nation for the next year's FIFA World Cup final provides the fourth and the fifth destinations. From 10-12 April, the tour will be in Cape Town and from 17-19 April in Johannesburg. At both venues, the ambassador will be Eusébio, the living legend and the first footballer of African origin to make an indelible mark on European club football, scoring twice as Benfica came back from 2-0 down to beat Real Madrid 5-3 in the 1962 final of the European Champion Clubs' Cup, the forerunner of the UEFA Champions League. The cup goes back to Italy for the official cup handover on 21 April to be taken to Studio Olimpico for the UEFA Champions League final on 27 May 2009.

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