More than a game of football

A packed FNB Stadium for the match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Barcelona.

The Mamelodi Sundowns, Barcelona match was more than just a game of football, it united people the way in which Nelson Mandela believed only sport could, DEAN WORKMAN explores.

‘Sports have the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sports can create hope, where there was once only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination. Sports is the game of lovers,’ said the late Nelson Mandela.

Last night’s match managed to produce an atmosphere which encapsulates and reinforces Madiba’s belief that sport could unite a nation in a way that nothing else could.

The game was Sundowns’ president Patrice Motsepe’s way of honouring the late Nelson Mandela, who would have turned 100 this year and Madiba would have undoubtedly been looking down on last night’s scenes with a smile on his face.

The excitement was evident right from the second tickets went on sale, with them flying at a record rate of 216 tickets per minute. It was confirmed that the game was a sell out a day before the clash as everyone grabbed the chance to watch some of the world’s greatest players in action.

Young, old, black, white, male and female came together to create an atmosphere inside the FNB Stadium which honoured Mandela’s legacy in the perfect way.

The game itself was entertaining with the Spanish Giants having too much for the Absa Premiership champions, securing the Nelson Mandela Centenary Cup after a 3-1 victory.

Barcelona took the lead early on through Ousmane Dembele. Percy Tau should have levelled the scores after being slipped through on goal, but he hit his shot straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Barcelona doubled their lead after 18 minutes through Luis Suarez. Downs then had a few chances of their own but couldn’t beat Ter Stegen, 2-0 to Barca at half-time.

As the clocked ticked over in the second half the crowd made their voices heard with chants of ‘MESSI, MESSI, MESSI’ in an attempt to get the mercurial Argentine onto the pitch.

They eventually got what they wanted when the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was brought onto the pitch and Messi got a welcome befitting one of the greats of football.

Andre Gomes got Barca’s third goal before Sibusiso Vilakazi pulled one back for Masandawana with 14 minutes to play.

The crowd broke out in a rapturous applause after the full-time whistle as the party atmosphere spilled onto the streets.

Ernesto Valverde and Ter Stegen both praised the atmosphere and experience of playing in front of the South African crowd. The Barca coach also highlighted the honour felt by the club after being able to pay homage to one of the worlds biggest icons in Madiba.

Thanks must be given to Motsepe and all those involved in making this happen and giving the nation yet another gift from Mandela.

Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

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