By Robson Sharuko
Harare – After the massive success of the Barcelona Legends tour of Zimbabwe, which saw an estimated 40,000 fans converging at the National Sports Stadium to watch the show, Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) is bringing another group of former football icons to play an exhibition match in Harare.
This time, it is the South African football legends – from the likes of Doctor Khumalo, Steve Komphela, Benni McCarthy, Lucas Radebe to former Manchester United midfielder Quinton Fortune- who are expected to come to town.
The high-profile match is scheduled for December 23 at the same National Sports Stadium that hosted the match between Zimbabwean Legends – featuring the likes of former Manchester City striker Benjani Mwaruwari and Peter Ndlovu – and their Barca counterparts that produced a four-goal thriller.
The Barca Legends featured Brazil’s World Cup winner Rivaldo.
However, this time around, the South African and Zimbabwean Legends will not be the main act on the day but they will provide the curtain-raising duties for the match between Zimbabwe’s Warriors and their Zambian counterparts for the President Cup.
The match between the two Southern African rivals is being arranged to celebrate the new political dispensation in Zimbabwe, which saw the country welcoming its second Executive President in 37 years when President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in amid huge expectations from millions of Zimbabweans.
President Mnangagwa was sworn in before a capacity and ecstatic 60,000 crowd at the same National Sports Stadium before a number of regional leaders, who included Zambian President Edgar Lungu and the founding father of that country, former President Kenneth Kaunda.
Interestingly, the Zambian national football side was one of the first international football teams to also come to Harare to play their Zimbabwean counterparts when the country celebrated its Independence in 1980.
Ironically, this year also marks the Silver Jubilee of the year when Peter Ndlovu inspired the Zimbabwean national football team to one of its finest hours in the game when they destroyed South Africa, just coming out of international isolation, 4-1 in a Nation’s Cup qualifier at the same National Sports Stadium.
Known as the Dream Team, which was under the guidance of late German coach Reinhard Fabisch, that Zimbabwean side punched above its weight and took their country on an unforgettable merry adventure in which they came within just 90 minutes of qualifying for the ‘94 World Cup finals only to lose the decisive match 1-3 at the hands of Cameroon in Yaoundé.
Now, memories of that adventure are being recreated through the staging of an exhibition match between the Zimbabwean and South African football legends.
Matches between the two countries have been fierce duels since that demolition of South Africa in Harare and in a World Cup qualifier in Harare, at the same National Sports Stadium, 13 Zimbabwean football fans were killed in a stampede after chaos broke out in the stands.
It remains the worst sporting disaster in Zimbabwean history.
“There is a new political dispensation in this country and as sport it’s our role to celebrate what is happening and that’s why we have decided to come up with this day when we will have the Zambian national team in Harare and also the best of the South Africans,” ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa told The Southern Times.
“Football unites our people and is the common language that is spoken in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa and it’s only right that we should use its power to unite us when we are celebrating milestone events in our sister countries.
“Sport has always played a leading role in shaping our countries and people refer to the way that rugby helped shape South Africa as we know it today when the country won the World Cup in 1995.
“Here in Zimbabwe we now have a President who has a passion for sport, in general, and football, in particular, and we have to celebrate his rise to the most important seat in this country and we are glad that our sister countries are also coming for the show.
“Remember we invited our new President, when he was the Acting President, to be our guest of honour during the send-off ceremony for our Warriors ahead of their trip to Gabon and he has always been very supportive of our football.
“You will have a number of players who have graced the FIFA World Cup before and these are huge characters in the game and we believe it will be another great day for our football and country.”
Football-mad prophet Walter Magaya, who has a club in the Zimbabwe Premiership, played a key role in the success of the visit by the Barca Legends after he hosted them at his exclusive hotel complex in Harare.
He has been roped into the organization of the match between the Warriors and Bafana Bafana Legends and the President Cup between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Magaya has agreed to host the four teams at his exclusive hotel complex and also provide transport for the teams during their stay in Harare.
“ZIFA came with a request for me to come on board and help in the organisation of the two matches and, as someone who will never say ‘no’ when it comes to helping my country, l accepted to be part of the show,” he said.
“This is about branding Zimbabwe and this is about celebrating this new political dispensation and we all have a role to play to ensure that our country turns the corner.
“I will always be available for my country and the last time l even played in the match and it was a very proud moment for me.”