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Benfica and UNHCR score for needy in Mali and Kenya refugee camp

19 July 2012
High Commissioner António Guterres (with pink tie) at last night's game in Lisbon, with Luis Figo partly hidden behind him and Eusebio two places to his left. © Pedro Fuiza/SL Benfica

Lisbon, Portugal (UNHCR) – Top Portuguese team Benfica beat an all-star side led by Luis Figo 5-1 last night in Lisbon to raise funds for displaced people in Mali and Kenya as part of a new partnership with the UN refugee agency.

The match at the Stadium of Light was kicked off by 70-year-old football legend Eusebio, who spent most of his career at Benfica. The next 90 minutes of play, watched by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and other VIPs, was a masterclass in flowing, skillful and entertaining football.

It pitted the current stars of the Lisbon team against a selection led by Luis Figo, Portugal's most capped player and 2001 World Player of the Year. His team included famous football names such as midfielder and current Benfica director of football, Rui Costa, Italy's Fabio Cannavaro, Dwight Yorke from Jamaica, Brazilian maestros Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, Dutchmen Ronald De Boer and Edgar Davids and many more. They were coached by the former England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson.

The evening match, dubbed "An act against hunger," attracted an impressive audience of 33,000 people and part of the proceeds will be used to fund UNHCR food and nutrition programmes for displaced people in Mali and Kenya's Kakuma Camp, which hosts mainly Sudanese refugees.

The exhibition game was the first of a series of events aimed at raising funds for UNHCR operations under the recently signed partnership agreement with the Benfica Foundation. All the players sported UNHCR's giving hands logo on their shorts, but this was just a one-off for the game.

"Benfica are a universal and humanist club of values, a club that undertake their social responsibility." Luis Filipe Vieira, president of the Benfica Foundation, said Benfica was a humanitarian club that took its social responsibility very seriously. "The Benfica Foundation will continue developing actions to help those in need. Please join us," he appealed.

Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, seemed delighted at the massive attendance and support for refugees in his home town. "It is remarkable that 33,000 people, at a [financially very difficult] time like this, have bought a ticket to come here."

He also thanked Luis Figo and his foundation for taking part and had special prise for the support of Benfica. "I feel a deep gratitude for all this and I feel very proud,"he said.

The new partners will next launch a joint campaign against xenophobia, intolerance and racism.

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