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Benfica win traditional Geneva winter tournament

Players from St Etienne and Ararat Yerevan fight for the ball during one of the semi-finals Keystone

Swiss footballers are currently in the middle of their mid-season break, but that doesn't mean they are idle. On Tuesday Servette Geneva hosted their traditional winter indoor tournament, the Coupe des Rois, which this year was won by Benfica.

The celebrated Portuguese side defeated the Armenians of Ararat Yerevan 4-1 in the final, having beaten Servette on penalties earlier in the evening. The Geneva team clinched third place by overcoming St. Etienne of France in an eventful match, which finished 4-3.

Benfica, effectively fielding their second team, follow in the illustrious footsteps of Marseilles, Dynamo Kiev, Bayern Munich, Dynamo Zagreb, Bordeaux and Porto, all past winners of the tournament.

Both Benfica and Ararat would have felt very much at home, given the considerable support they both received from the large Portuguese and Armenian contingents in the 7,000-strong capacity crowd.

Among those cheering on the Yerevan side was the evening’s guest of honour, French World Cup star Youri Djorkaeff, who is of Armenian origin.

The tournament was played at the Vernets sports arena, normally home to Servette’s ice hockey team, but for one evening every January it is given over to football. It has become one of the sporting highlights of the Geneva Winter, and the reception the teams got was anything but chilly.

“It’s a big attraction for the public at a time when there is little sport around, but it is also allows the players to keep active and play on a good surface a month before the resumption of the championship,” says Patrick Trotignon, Servette’s Director General.

As far as the coach, Lucien Favre, is concerned the Coupe des Rois forms a vital part of the preparation for the final round of the championship: “At the moment, we’re doing a lot of endurance work, so it’s important to have some competitive matches,” he says.

“It’s a fun evening, for the spectators and for the players, but it’s more important to play well,” Favre told swissinfo

The Coupe des Rois is also an important way for the club to build links within the community. Servette often invite clubs from the French league, which is very popular in French-speaking Switzerland, and from countries which have large numbers of emigrants living in Geneva, such as Portugal.

“Geneva is an international city, and the Coupe des Rois is an opportunity to maintain links with European football capitals,” Trotignon says. “It’s important that this tournament – and Servette – are recognised internationally.”

That international recognition is aided by the fact that Servette are owned by the French television channel Canal +, and the tournament was being televised not only by Swiss television, but also continent-wide by Eurosport.

“When you consider the televisual power of football, it’s important for the city and for the clubs taking part,” Trotignon told swissinfo.

by Roy Probert

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR