Southern African football legends set for Lagos dance in high-profile charity match
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – A FORMER African Footballer Of The Year, a UEFA Champions League winner and a star who spent more than a decade playing in the top two tiers of English football are some of Southern African legends set to grace a high-profile charity match in Nigeria on April 29 which is expected to bring about fifty of the continent’s all-time biggest stars.
The charity match is being staged by a charity foundation run by one of the best footballers to emerge from the continent, Nwanko Kanu, who starred for Ajax Amsterdam, Inter Milan and Arsenal during a glittering professional career.
Kanu’s Heart Foundation is being supported by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in the staging of the high-profile match which has been also received the backing of the Nigerian government.
Zambian football’s legend Kalusha Bwalya, widely considered to be the greatest player to emerge from his country and who was crowned the 1988 African Footballer of the Year, headlines the cast of stars from this part of the continent expected to play in the match.
Bwalya was the standout player for a Zambian team that captured the imagination of the world after turning on the style at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, where they thrashed Italy 4-0.
He captained his country to the final of the 1994 African Cup of Nations in Tunisia, where they lost 1-2 to Nigeria, despite having lost a generation of their best players in a plane crash off the coast of Gabon a few months earlier.
Bwalya also returned to star at the 1996 Nations Cup finals, where his five goals won him the Golden Boot award at the tournament in South Africa, where Chipolopolo finished third.
“Kalusha represents the purity of Zambian football and that’s why he is known as King Kalu in that country,” Zimbabwean football agent Kudzi Shaba who is traveling to Lagos for the match told The Southern Times.
“When you talk about football in Africa you can’t ignore the name Kalusha Bwalya and the organizers of the charity match are aware of his legendary status and that is why he has been invited for this important match.
“It’s good that we the people of Africa are organizing such a very important game for the cause of charity and every time when you bring together the best footballers to come out of this continent it’s always a special occasion.
“It’s important that this big match has also received the support of the Nigerian government because the authorities are very crucial in making sure that everything sails smoothly since there will be scores of superstars in one place and it’s crucial that things go according to plan.”
Bwalya, who also coached his national team and became leader of the Football Association of Zambia, is a very influential figure in his country and rallied behind Zambian President Edgar Lungu in the country’s Presidential elections.
The Zambian legend won’t be the only Southern African football superstar in Lagos for this high-profile charity match.
Benni McCarthy, the South African footballer who won the UEFA Champions League with Portuguese giants Porto, is also expected to feature in that match.
McCarthy exploded on the international scene at the 1998 African Cup of Nations finals in Burkina Faso where his seven goals won him the Golden Boot as he led Bafana Bafana to the final.
South Africa, though, lost that big match to Egypt in what was a spirited defense of the crown they had won on home soil two years earlier.
But McCarthy had already turned himself into a star and he would soon explode in Europe, famously scoring in a victory over Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League as Porto, under Jose Mourinho, defied the odds to win the tournament.
Other South African football legends, notably former Bafana Bafana captain Lucas Radebe, who rose to become the skipper of English side Leeds United and led them into the semi-finals of the Champions League, is also set to grace the occasion.
Phil Masinga and Mark Fish are some of the Bafana Bafana legends expected to play in the match.
Zimbabwe’s Peter Ndlovu, who spent more than a decade playing in the top two tiers of English football, has also been invited for the match.
Ndlovu is considered the best in-field player to emerge out of his country and captained it at the Warriors’ maiden appearance at the Nations Cup finals in 2004.
He also returned as captain when the Warriors featured at the 2006 AFCON finals.
At the peak of his athletic powers he was considered to be the next George Best and English giants Liverpool tried and failed to sign him.
Another former Zimbabwean star, Benjani Mwaruwari, is also set to play in that charity match in Lagos.
Benjani broke the transfer record for English side Portsmouth, when they lured him from France, before he moved to Manchester City and scored on his debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The Southern African stars will be joined by some of the best players to emerge from this continent including Roger Milla, Jay Jay Okocha, El-Hadji Diouf, Taribo West, Samson Siasia, Emmanuel Emunike, Daniel Amokachi and Didier Drogba, who recently acquired a football franchise in the United States, for the big match.