Maradona, Figo expected in Chechnya

AFP, Tuesday 10 May 2011

Football legends from Diego Maradona to Luis Figo are expected in Russia's restive republic of Chechnya on Wednesday for an exhibition match sponsored by the local strongman leader

Figo
Figo watches the Madrid Open tennis match between Federer and Soderling(Photo: Reuters)

The authorities of Chechnya have poured enormous financial and political capital into the unveiling of a new stadium in Grozny -- a city slowly rebuilding from two wars in the past 15 years.

The office of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov -- a former rebel backed by the Kremlin despite his questionable record on human rights -- said the unveiling ceremony will include a match featuring some of the sport's most revered names.

The list of all-stars announced by the Chechen authorities includes English greats Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman as well as France's Jean-Pierre Papin and Fabien Barthez.

The Italian contingent was supposed to include Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta along with Christian Vieri.

The local side will be captained by Kadyrov himself and feature a couple of retired stars from the Russian national squad.

But none of the international big names have thus far confirmed their participation while Zinedine Zidane called earlier reports of his involvement "quite annoying".

Chechnya did manage to pull off a minor miracle in March by playing an exhibition match against Brazilian legends who included 1994 World Cup winners Bebeto and Dunga.

The new stadium holds added significance for Chechen rulers because the existing one was the site where the republic's former leader Akhmad Kadyrov -- the current president's father -- was killed in a bomb blast in 2004.

The new stadium bears Akhmad Kadyrov's name and represents Chechnya's attempt to rebuild a civil society in a republic whose conflicts killed tens of thousands and left most infrastructure in ruins.

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