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A man who torments opposing defenders is equally adept at helping children in need. FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi, as part of the UEFA.com users' Team of the Year 2009, received a cheque for €100,000 from the adviser to the UEFA president, William Gaillard, before last night's UEFA Champions League first knockout round second-leg encounter with VfB Stuttgart at Camp Nou – before going to on to score twice in an outstanding display as Barcelona charged into the quarter-finals.
The cheque will be donated to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and its campaign to support land-mine victims in Afghanistan. UEFA began its partnership with the ICRC when it started to support its anti land-mine campaign in 1997. This is third time the ICRC will benefit from the cheque offered by UEFA in relation to the selection of the UEFA.com users' Team of the Year.
Forward Messi's outstanding achievements with Barça, including the Catalan outfit conquering the UEFA Champions League last season, resulted in a record 250,000 votes from UEFA.com users in the Team of the Year 2009 poll. "It is a beautiful feeling," he told UEFA.com. "It is a pleasure that people recognise my work, and that they are with me. And then also to be the one with the most votes, when many great players have been nominated, that feels like a great appreciation."
The Argentinian international said before the 4-0 defeat of Stuttgart that it was a great honour to be elected into the Team of the Year. He explained that it also helped him realise both how lucky he was, and how much he could give to less fortunate people around the world. He was therefore pleased to present the cheque for €100,000 to the ICRC– "which will support that organisation in helping children who really need it".
All monies donated have gone to the Score for the Red Cross campaign in support of the ICRC rehabilitation project for land-mine victims in Afghanistan, which provides artificial limbs, physiotherapy and vocational training. Messi is already well used to helping causes – his own foundation assists children with health issues.
"It's very important, and that's also why we started our own foundation – to be able to help children, just as the Red Cross does," the 22-year-old said. "For me and my family this is something we always said we would do, and thankfully I now have the opportunity to do it. It's a huge pleasure for us to help as many as we can, especially those who need it the most."
More than 60 people are killed or maimed by land mines in Afghanistan every month. The ICRC's limb-fitting and rehabilitation programme has aided more than 90,000 mine victims and other disabled people since it was established in 1988. Apart from supporting their physical rehabilitation, the ICRC also helps disabled people play an active role in society by financing education, vocational training, employment and small business activities.
The Team of the Year vote produced a midfield of Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi Hernández, Kaká and Andrés Iniesta, with Zlatan Ibrahimović and Messi up front. It looks a defender's nightmare, as Messi himself admitted: "That would be impressive. All those players have the ability to decide a game at any moment. I don't believe a team like that would ever be a reality, but it would be amazing."
The UEFA.com users' Team of the Year 2009 was: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid CF); Daniel Alves (FC Barcelona), John Terry (Chelsea FC), Carles Puyol (FC Barcelona), Patrice Evra (Manchester United FC); Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid CF), Xavi Hernández (FC Barcelona), Kaká (Real Madrid CF), Andrés Iniesta (FC Barcelona); Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona), Zlatan Ibrahimović (FC Barcelona). Coach Josep Guardiola (FC Barcelona).
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