Football: Europe v Africa match makes history

The first meeting of All-Star teams representing Europe and Africa takes place at Benfica's Stadium of Light today. The Europeans, selected by Rinus Michels of the Netherlands and Berti Vogts of Germany, have a 17-man squad which contains four players who were among Germany's Euro 96 winners, including their captain, Jurgen Klinsmann, as well as the Dutch twins Ronald and Frank de Boer of Ajax, and Zvonimir Boban, Milan's Croat midfielder.

The African All-Stars 18-man squad, selected by Rabah Madjer of Algeria and Mawade Wade of Senegal, includes four of Nigeria's Olympic gold-medal winning squad and two of South Africa's African championship winning squad.

Benfica have players in both squads, with Portugal's Joao Pinto in the European camp and Paulo Antonio, of Angola, in the African.

Most of the African squad play in Europe, and the match, being staged as part of the European Community's "European Year Against Racism", is also part of a wider plan to build better football ties between the two continents.

Uefa, European football's ruling body, and CAF, its African counterpart, will also be holding their first joint-executive meeting in Lisbon and, according to a Uefa spokesman, the whole initiative "will mark a new era in the relationship between the African Football Confederation and Uefa."

A Uefa spokesman, Graham Turner, also said yesterday that the venue of Benfica's impressive Stadium of Light was a deliberate choice serving to recognise the enormous contribution that Benfica's greatest player, Eusebio, had made to European football.

Eusebio was born in Mozambique, but his arrival at Benfica in the early 1960s heralded the club's most successful era. The team went on to win the European Cup in both 1961 and 1962. "There is no better link between Europe and Africa than Eusebio," he added.

Michels and Wade yesterday told a joint news conference in Lisbon that they would use all their players during the game. "Everybody must participate as much as possible," Michels said.

Because the intention is to give everybody a game, both teams will be allowed two re-substitutions - the sending back on of a player previously substituted - in the event of second-half injuries.

While many of the world's top players are involved, there are no English players in the European squad as the Premier League has a full programme of matches tonight. No players with eastern European clubs are involved either, because of their winter break.

On Friday, as a continuing part of the anti-racism initiative, the under- 17 Meridian Cup, which comprises four nations from each continent, gets under way.

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