Thursday, July 28, 2005

Aceh "dreams" of visit by Italian footballers

In the tsunami-devastated Indonesian province of Aceh, orphan children are regaining their love of life thanks to their passion for football. While the British football teams have been very active in helping the local population recover from devastation, the much loved Italian football players have never paid a visit.

Emphasising the cultural and natural beauties of Indonesia, Dali Tahir - the leading Indonesian expert of Italian football - appeals to Adnkronos International for a quick, healing visit by Vieri, Baggio or Del Piero.

“Baggio is Buddhist, he should visit the Indonesian temple of Borobudur in Central Java and then come to Aceh to make the province's thousands of orphans happy", suggests Tahir, in perfect Italian. “To bring Baggio or the Juventus team to Aceh would be a dream come true for the local population. Baggio is a national hero, as are Del Piero, Totti, Maldini and Vieri.”

Tahir, who admitted loving Juventus, is deputy president of the Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI) and regularly comments live on TV football premiership matches. Besides television, Indonesian fans of Italian soccer get the latest on their sporting heroes by reading Top Scorer, a review jointly published there with Italy's sporting daily, Gazzetta dello Sport.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the young Portuguese wing of Manchester United, was recently greeted by thousands of fans in Banda Aceh before going to Jakarta for a fund-raising dinner. Before him, Warren Borton, a former player from Newcastle United, spent a few days teaching kids to play in the destroyed stadium of Lamholm city in Banda Aceh.

No Italian football players have yet graced Aceh's battered shores. The last time an Italian team visited Indonesia, according to Tahir, was four years ago with Milan, Lazio and Sampdoria stopping by.

Meanwhile, in Aceh soccer is gradually returning to normality. In the last month FIFA has distributed 4,500 footballs and has organised football schools for children in refugee camps. A friendly tournament for eight semi-professional teams was held in Aceh recently under the name ‘Football for Hope’.