GROZNY - Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Russia's volatile Chechnya region, scored two goals in a friendly against Brazil's 2002 World Cup winners in front of a capacity crowd on Tuesday.
Kadyrov assembled a team of veterans from his Russian Premier League club Terek Grozny plus Bulgaria coach Lothar Matthaus and his fellow former German international Oliver Kahn, who lost 6-4 to the Brazilian stars.
"Today's game was a show, we wanted people to understand, through football, that we are a peaceful nation," the barrel-chested 34-year-old told reporters in the Chechen capital.
Hundreds of jubilant fans screamed "Ramzan!" and "Chechnya!" in their native Chechen language as Kadyrov, clad in a long-sleeved red shirt with the Terek emblem, ran onto the field sporting his iconic ginger beard.
The Kremlin-backed leader said he had lost 5-6 kg in order to play as captain for the whole game, which was free to attend.
Dunga, who coached the 2010 World Cup team, and fellow Brazilian Romario were presented with traditional Chechen bread before joining Bebeto, Rai, Cafu, Elber, Denilson, Andre Cruz, Ze Mario, Roque Junior, Djalminha and Zetti on the field.
"Having such a team (Brazil) here is important not only for Chechnya, but for all of Russia," said Kadyrov, who danced the Caucasus lezginka dance in his soccer kit during halftime on the field.
Former Brazil full-back Roberto Carlos, who made his debut last week for Anzhi Makhachkala, a Russian Premier League club in neighbouring Dagestan, also played while pop singer Lara Fabian performed at a nearby concert.
A decade after Russian troops drove separatists out of power in the second of two wars in Chechnya, an Islamist insurgency is bubbling in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus where rebels want to carve out a separate state with Sharia law.
Though violence has quelled somewhat in Chechnya, other North Caucasus provinces such as Dagestan are plagued by shootings, suicide bombs and grenade attacks in an insurgency that claimed 1,000 lives last year.
Local leaders and fans are now looking upon football as a fresh way to pacify the region.
Kadyrov has been basking in the limelight since appointing former Dutch great Ruud Gullit as Terek coach earlier this year.
Though Russia did not qualify for the 2010 World Cup, the country is passionate about football and won the right to host the world's biggest sporting event in 2018.
Kadyrov has proposed adding Grozny to the list of 13 host cities for the 2018 edition but Russia is unlikely to bring any matches to the North Caucasus.comments