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Memorial to WWI ‘Christmas Truce’ football match unveiled

A century after the famous World War I “Christmas Truce,” UEFA chief Michel Platini unveiled a memorial Thursday to the no-man’s land football match British and German soldiers played as fighting ceased.

Dignitaries from several countries attended the ceremony inaugurating a simple stone sculpture of a stylised football player set in a field at Saint-Yvon, near the Belgian village of Ploegsteert.

It honours one of the most famous incidents of the war — and one that has become a symbol of peace amid the horrors of war, and of rank-and-file soldiers overcoming the national rivalries that left millions dead.

“I pay tribute to the soldiers who, one hundred years ago, showed their humanity by playing football together, opening an important chapter in European unity and providing a lasting example to young people,” Platini said.

That powerful occasion of peaceful togetherness, Platini added, epitomised the “universal language that is football.”

World War I was entering its first winter in 1914 when, with Christmas on its way, Allied and German soldiers left their trenches to celebrate with each other.

Defying the orders of their officers, the troops ceased hostilities for a few brief hours to play a football match in the mud of no-man’s land.

The Germans won 3-2, according to the journal of Kurt Zehmisch, a soldier from the 134th Saxon Regiment.

“The ball replaced bullets. In one football match, humanity transcended barbarism,” said Ken Skates, sports minister in the devolved Welsh government.

German ambassador Eckart Cuntz added that the match took place when 300,000 soldiers had already lost their lives in the war.

“Despite that savagery, the magic of Christmas took over. Christmas Truce — what a magical (term) to remind us that all soldiers are people, far away from their families,” Cuntz said.

The ceremony finished with the screening of a film in which former footballers including England’s Bobby Charlton and France’s Didier Deschamps read out letters written by soldiers describing the Christmas Truce.