PARIS: One Very Important Guest watched Italy play Spain in the Stade de France: Chantal Borgonovo, widow of the former Italian international Stefano Borgonovo who died three years ago on that specific day from motor neurone disease.

Borgonovo died a few hours before the Confederation Cup tie between these two same countries in Fortaleza, Brazil  (which Spain won on penalties), after a courageous eight-year battle against the progressive and fatal nervous system disease.

Happy days at Milan . . . Stefano Borgonovo

Italy’s players paid their own tribute that day by wearing black armbands in memory of and tribute to Borgonovo, a 1990 European Cup winner with Milan.

Chantal Borgonovo was a special guest at the match in Saint-Denis at the invitation of Carlo Tavecchio, the president of the Italian football federation.

She said: “This is a very special moment and I am very grateful to the FIGC its president Carlo Tavecchio. Stefano was always very proud to wear the jersey of the national squad and Stefano’s former colleagues – with Gigi Buffon, the captain and goalkeeper of the Squadra Azzurra, leading the way – were always very close to us. I am sure that Stefano would have wanted me to attend the game.

‘Important role’

“My husband was a real fighter – on and off the pitch. We will continue to fight ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) to raise awareness of this illness. Football can play an important role in this battle.

“Football is the No1 sport in the world and you can address a huge crowd. That’s the reason why I am particularly happy and thankful to the Italian football association for its help and this gesture.”

Borgonovo set up his charitable foundation, dedicated to finding a cure and raising funds and awareness for ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease)), in 2008.

Roberto Baggio, his teammate at Fiorentina , and many others such as Carlo Ancelotti, Claudio Ranieri, Pep Guardiola, Ronaldo, and many many more, support the Foundation.

When Borgonovo died in 2013 Baggio, his teammate at Fiorentina, wrote an open letter highlighting his great achievement: “Dear Stefano, The most beautiful victory that you’ve managed to achieve over the years has been to turn the poison of the disease into medicine for others.”

Baggio he added: “Do you know what my greatest joy was? Helping you to score with an assist and seeing infinite happiness in your eyes. The memory of that happiness that today, dear Stefano, fails to compensate for the pain the news of your death.”