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(photo credit: AP [file])
Barcelona star Samuel Eto'o showed a touch of brilliance as he dribbled past half of the joint Betar Jerusalem/Bnei Sakhnin team to score the second goal in a charity match for peace at Zissman Hall in Ramat Gan on Wednesday night.
The Cameroon international played for a few minutes in the first half on the team made up of stars from the TV show Eretz Nehederet, which faced players from Betar and Sakhnin.
Eto'o, who arrived in Israel on Tuesday, spent the day promoting his message of anti-racism and anti-violence in the trip organized by the Peres Center for Peace.
But on Wednesday evening, the time finally came for him to show off the skills that have helped him become recognized as one of the best soccer players in the world.
Although the score was relatively insignificant, Eto'o played most of the second half on the Betar-Sakhnin team to help it easily win the match 5-2, with a hatrick from Betar forward Lior Asulin assuring the victory.
In an example of the unity before the 1,000 strong crowd, Asulin exchanged passes with Sakhnin's Abed Rabbo before firing home his first goal a minute into the match.
"It is something wonderful to see that a person and player like him came to Israel to promote peace," Betar's Gal Alberman told The Jerusalem Post after the match. "We don't need to see it here. We all know how great he is when we see him on TV every week. I think Samuel Eto'o is the best striker in the world at the moment."
There has been a history of violent clashes between the fans of Betar and Sakhnin and the message from the players was clear.
"We want to show the supporters that the problem is not with the players," Alberman said. "It is important to get unity among the Jews and Arabs. I felt no difference playing with the Sakhnin players tonight compared with playing for my own team."
The event attracted a number of politicians, including Peres Center president and Vice Premier Shimon Peres and MK Tzahi Hanegbi, who played in goal for the Eretz Nehederet team.
Peres addressed the crowd before the game. "When I see Betar and Sakhnin together this is an Eretz Nehederet [wonderful land]," he said. "We hope there will be peace and end to violence."
After Eto'o accepted a trophy from Sports Minister Ophir Pines, he told the crowd. "I never thought I would be here in Israel with such important people. I have scored many goals in my life but this, to promote peace here, is one of the most beautiful."
Earlier in the day the Barcelona player spoke about the importance of standing up against racism and violence in soccer. The player has become a symbol of anti-racism, especially after he threatened to walk off the pitch during a game in the Spanish league against Real Zaragoza in February when he had been taunted with monkey chants.
"I am in soccer and if I can use my position as an instrument to promote the betterment of things than I will do it," he told the Post. "During my free time anything I can do to help making things better in the world I will do with the greatest of pleasures."
Eto'o admitted that the problem of racism in Israeli soccer, which is mostly directed against Arab players, is different than in Europe. However he stressed: "We need to recognize there is a problem of racism and publicize this. We need to be together in the war against racism. What happens in the stadiums is unacceptable. It is a long road but we have to take it together."
Earlier on Wednesday, the Cameroonian attended a special "mini World Cup" tournament at Hadar Yosef, where 24 mixed teams of Palestinian and Israeli youngsters from the Peres Center sports department battled for the coveted trophy. The final of the seven-a-side competition was a tense affair, won by the team representing Italy, which beat Brazil on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
"I decided to come to Israel because of the children. It is very important to bring them together so they will know to live together. Thankfully I have been given the possibility to do something through soccer and encourage people to listen. It is an important tool."