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Throng of VIPs expected at tonight’s Portugal-Belgium friendly to show “football is not afraid”

PSP police have issued a communiqué in advance of tonight’s ‘friendly’ game between Portugal and Belgium – diverted to Leiria in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks in Brussels
They have appealed to the public “not to bring rucksacks, bags or other objects” that would require frisking before carriers would be allowed into the stadium.

With an extra 1,000 tickets being released for sale on Monday, expectations are for a huge crowd, while the list of national VIPs showing up has already seen reinforced security tightened a notch further.

Not only will President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa be there – to show his solidarity for the atrocities that forced the game’s rescheduling to Portugal – but he is to be joined by prime minister António Costa, president of the Parliament Ferro Rodrigues and president of the Constitutional Court Joaquim Sousa Ribeiro.

The Portuguese Football Federation has also confirmed the attendance of Sheik David Munir, the iman of Lisbon’s “Mesquita Central” mosque.

Diário de Notícias adds that Lisbon cardinal patriarch Manuel Clemente and the bishop of Leiria-Fátima António Marto have been invited but “cannot be present”.

Meantime, the second of five tests that the national team faces before the final phase of Euro 2016 playoffs is being widely seen as a gesture to show that “football is not afraid”.

“It is very important that the match is being held,” Portugal’s coach Fernando Santos has explained. “To organise it in Portugal is a very good solution. The important thing is the signal this match gives. The signal is that football is not afraid, the people are not afraid.”

The match, which until last week’s terror attacks was due to take place at Brussels’ King Badouin stadium, will be kicking off tonight at 7.45pm in Leiria’s Estádio Municipal Magalhães Pessoa.

Police have stressed that “no risks have been identified” and that “measures implemented are purely preventive considering the time we are going through”.

Their intention is “to assure the sporting event takes place with the greatest normality and tranquility”.

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