Some of the world’s finest-ever footballers and managers descended on Dubai on Sunday night for Hublot’s latest Match of Friendship.
In front of the iconic Burj Khalifa, teams led by Brazil legend Pele – arguably the game’s all-time-best practitioner – and Italy’s respected World Cup 2006 winner Marcello Lippi enjoyed a thrilling 11-11 draw on a specially constructed four-a-side pitch. This followed a similar star-studded event in Zurich, Switzerland last month held by Russia 2018’s official timekeeper.
Several hundred guests and spectators at Dubai Opera’s bucolic sky garden were treated to clashes between France World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 champions Marcel Desailly and Christian Karembeu. This pair were added to by a trio of Lippi’s triumphant global charges from eight years later – Gianluca Zambrotta, Marco Amelia and Marco Materazzi.
Other modern greats included giant ex-AC Milan and Brazil goalkeeper Dida, regular club-mate Serginho, Republic of Ireland record goal scorer Robbie Keane, Real Madrid and Spain stalwart Michel Salgado plus Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club and UAE battler Majed Hassan.
But the loudest cheers of the evening came when the feted Pele was introduced to the crowd. The 77-year-old with more than 1,000 career goals, plus winner’s medals at the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cups, was happy to be in Dubai.
He said: “This is the third or fourth time that I have been to Dubai. I have made some friends here and I feel good.
“Now, I had an opportunity to come with Hublot because we are on the same team now. This is good for me.”
With 60 days to go before the first match of World Cup 2018 kicks off between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, Hublot brought together friends of the brand to celebrate the beautiful game.
Dubai-resident Salgado, 42, was one of these.
He played 341 times for Los Blancos from 1999-2009, also earning 53 caps for his nation. Yet this special event was one to savour even for such a storied person.
“The atmosphere was amazing, the place to do an event like this with Hublot, bringing together Lippi and Pele – one of the best coaches ever and also one of my idols when I was a kid – was such a great moment for me,” he said.
The action itself was hotly contested as many of the fiercest competitors from the past 20 years brushed off the cobwebs caused by retirement. The setting was also lauded by Dida, who won 92 caps for Brazil and spent a decade at Milan from 2000-2010.
“It is beautiful to be here,” the 44-year-old said. “Dubai is incredible.
“The city has changed so much since I was last here five years ago. It was very emotional and special to me.”
With 60 days to go before the first match of the 2018 World Cup kicks off, Hublot is bringing together the friends of the brand to celebrate the beautiful game.
Legendary Brazil forward Pele and World Cup winning manager Marcello Lippi will be up against one another as coaches of two star-studded teams for the Hublot Match of Friendship at Dubai Opera.
Watch the game LIVE below!
Wolves’ return to the Premier League after a six-year absence was confirmed on Saturday after Fulham’s 1-1 draw with Brentford gave Nuno Espirito Santo’s men an unassailable 10-point lead over the Londoners with just three games of the season remaining.
Bought over by Chinese group Fosun International in 2016, Wolves’ return to England’s lucrative top flight has been bankrolled by huge investment and links to Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes.
Portugal international Ruben Neves, signed for a Championship record £15.8 million from Porto in July, was one of a number of Portuguese players recruited in the summer and that investment has told on the field as the Midlands side have streaked away from the chasing pack.
Neves produced one of the moments of the season in midweek with a sensational 30-yard wonder strike to see off Derby 2-0.
Victory over Birmingham on Sunday will also take Wolves to within a point of sealing the Championship title ahead of Cardiff City.
However, Wolves’ big spending has provoked complaints for other sides in the league.
“Congratulations to the best team but hope the league can be fair and equal to all 24 teams,” protested Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani after his side were beaten 3-0 by Wolves last month.
“Not legal and fair [to] let one team owned by a fund who has shares in the biggest players’ agency with evident benefits (top European clubs giving players with options to buy… why the other 23 teams can’t have the same treatment?).”
Mendes is the founder of the Gestifute agency which represents a host of international stars, including Cristiano Ronaldo.
On the field Wolves have proved unstoppable as they amassed a huge lead at the top of the table on the back of losing just three of their opening 27 games of the campaign.
And despite a mid-winter blip, Wolves have finished as strongly as they began with 16 points from their last possible 18 securing promotion.
Cardiff’s hopes of joining them in the Premier League next season were also boosted by Brentford’s dramatic 94th minute equaliser to hold Fulham at Craven Cottage.
The Welsh side lead Fulham by a point and have a game in hand after scoring twice themselves in the final four minutes to win 2-0 at Norwich.
Aston Villa’s 1-0 win over Leeds on Friday also kept them in the battle for automatic promotion, three points behind Fulham.
Middlesbrough were the big winners in the battle for playoff places behind the top four on Saturday as they edged past Bristol City 2-1.
Millwall extended their 17-game unbeaten league run with a 1-1 draw at Sheffield United to remain in the final playoff place.
However, Derby’s playoff push suffered another setback when they were beaten 3-1 at relegation threatened Burton.
That win moved second bottom Burton to within five points off safety.
But Sunderland look set for back-to-back relegations after a 2-2 draw at Reading left them rock bottom and still six points adrift of safety.