Real Zaragoza entertain a host of famous footballing names tonight as the northern Spanish club pay tribute to one of their former heroes, Argentinian defender Fernando Cáceres.
Cáceres – who played in Spain with Zaragoza, Valencia CF, RC Celta de Vigo and Córdoba CF – was the victim of an armed assault in Argentina in November 2009, as a result of which he lost his right eye as well as suffering a fractured skull. Since the incident, the 44-year-old has striven constantly to overcome his injuries in order to achieve his dream of one day becoming a coach.
Tonight's testimonial match at La Romareda will pit Real Zaragoza against a Friends of Fernando Cáceres XI comprising former team-mates and current Liga players. Among the crowd for the showpiece occasion – which kicks off at 20.30CET – will be a large part of the Zaragoza side that triumphed alongside Cáceres in both the 1994 Copa del Rey final and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final at the Parc des Princes 12 months later.
One of those present will be Cáceres's former centre-back partner during his three years at Zaragoza, Xavi Aguado, who highlighted – among other qualities – the fighting spirit of his colleague. "I remember seeing him in his first game for the club and thinking, 'This guy is a bit special,'" Aguado explained. "What I would single out about him is what he brought to the team, to our group, as a person."
Another member of the Cup Winners' Cup-winning team, who beat Arsenal FC 2-1 in Paris thanks to Nayim's 120th-minute goal, was goalkeeper Andoni Cedrún. "In our house, Cáceres my daughter's idol," Cedrún said of a player capped 24 times by Argentina. "With him and Aguado in front of me, I knew I could come out of my goal with nothing to worry about." From that defensive platform, Zaragoza – currently in Spain's second tier – were able to land a second European trophy after the 1964 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
Words of support and affection have not just come from erstwhile team-mates. Players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Santi Cazorla, Pedro Rodríguez and David Villa have offered their backing; Diego Maradona sent his best wishes from Dubai; and Club Atlético de Madrid boss Diego Simeone will assist Cáceres's old Zaragoza coach Víctor Fernández on the bench for the Friends of Fernando Cáceres. The man himself will enjoy the game from the stands, surrounded by familiar faces. All proceeds from the match will go towards facilitating his ongoing recovery.
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