By Grace Chingoma
SENEGAL’S 2002 World Cup stars — El Hadji Diouf and Khalilou Fadiga — led a galaxy of African stars who descended on Harare yesterday afternoon for the Benjani Mwaruwari testimonial match this afternoon at National Sports Stadium.
Nigerian striker Yakubu, one of the leading strikers in the English Premiership last season playing for relegated Blackburn Rovers, also arrived in the capital yesterday. Togolese star, Emmanuel Adebayor, is expected this morning alongside giant defender, Christopher Samba, who is now playing for wealthy Russian club, Anzhi.
Nwankwo Kanu, the Nigerian legend, was expected in Harare at 9pm last night after having spent the better part of yesterday holed up in Johannesburg. Kanu was scheduled to arrive on the same flight with Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha, a midfield magician during his time who is widely regarded as one of the finest African players of all-time.
Cote d’Ivoire defender Emmanuel Eboue, Democratic Republic of Congo’s Lomana Lua Lua, Pascal Chimbonda, former Bafana Bafana captain Lucas Radebe, Walid Bouzid, Odishe Amoateng and Nana Owusu Sechere jetted into country yesterday ahead of the high-profile match will pit Benjani’s friends and the Warriors.
Former South African skipper, Aaron Mokoena, arrived in Harare on Thursday alongside German international midfieder Kevin Pozzoni. It was quite a scene at the Harare International Airport as the South African Airways jet, which brought the first batch of Benjani’s friends, also had Nigerian artist Flavour and the Nigerian women’s national team, the Super Falcons.
Fans jostled for a glimpse of the players and mobbed them as they emerged from the arrivals’ hall. The stars were met at the airport by Benjani and his son Junior as well as his long-time friend, Harlington Shereni, who was also assisting in welcoming the guests as they got into a fleet of Range Rovers to their hotels in preparation for the fund-raising dinner which was held last night.
Diouf, who is the king of bling in football and calls himself the David Beckham of Africa, brought his lovely wife Vallery. Chimbonda also brought his wife Lisa. And one thing was evident in the players that they were happy to be in Zimbabwe this weekend to support their friend and mixed and mingled with the airport staff and the fans who came out in their numbers.
Former Liverpool forward, Diouf, said it was his first time here, and had come to support his friend in his charity work. “It is my first time here and I had always said to Benjani I want to visit and now I am here to support his charity work. I am here to support one of my brothers,” said Diouf.
His wife could not stop poking fun at Congolese international footballer, Lua Lua. She said Lua Lua purchased an attire for last night’s dinner at South Africa OR Tambo International Airport on their way here for a cool 3 000 pounds. She also revealed she was a close friend of Benjani’s wife Thembi and felt she had to accompany his husband.
“I am so happy to come here, my husband goes everywhere for charity, but felt this is important to me as well as Benjy is a like a brother and his wife Thembi is my sister when we are in England,” said Vallery.
Fadiga, who is also one of Benjani’s closest friends as they played together at Auxerre in France, said they were together in the trenches and he was now here to help his friend wave goodbye and close a chapter on a good career.
“We played together in Auxerre and I have never been in Zimbabwe before. I am here with my heart and my mind. He is a great football player and is one of the biggest from my generation. I was one of the biggest number 10 in Africa and am here to help end what we started years ago,” said Fadiga.
Lua Lua, who revealed his testimonial match is also on the cards, said as African players who have made it abroad, it was always good to give back to the community. “I am happy to be here and it is my first time here as well. We are at home and Africa is my home and I am happy to come and pay respect to my friend Benjani.
“It is nice to give something back to the community. I know how it is like to grow in Africa and when you have little money, you have to give back. I also have my own Lua Lua Foundation and I am also an ambassador of Unicef and next time Benjie will come to Congo for mine.
“On June 15 we will have a match in Angola — Lua Lua friends and the Akwa Foundation to raise money for charity. Definitely the youngsters look at us as role models and we have to help and pave way for them,” said Lua Lua. Former Arsenal defender Eboue said Benjani needed all the support.
“You know Benjy is our brother and we are here to support him. It’s very important to make such kind of a gesture, so we are happy to come here and support. When he called me, I said I am coming and it is my first time to be here. I think Benjy gonna show me Zimbabwe and I wish I had come here before,” said Eboue.
Frenchman Chimbonda, who is teammates with Diouf at Doncaster Rovers in England, also weighed in and said he was looking forward to a great time in Zimbabwe. “It’s good to be here as Benjy is my friend and when he asked me to come and support, I had the pleasure to come and help him for a good reason.
“It is my first time here and I am looking forward to have a good time,” said Chimbonda. His wife Lisa said she was also looking forward to see the way of life of Zimbabweans and hailed the players for being involved in charity work in their respective countries.
Yakubu praised the former Warriors captain, whom he described as a good person. “Benjani is a good guy who deserves our support. Zimbabwe is a good place and I have been here before for competitive matches and it always feels like home.
“We are here to make the fans happy and we know people back home always needs our support,” said Yakubu. Former Leeds star Radebe, who is also one of the greatest African ambassadors and is also involved in a lot of charity work in South Africa, said they would be celebrating life of one of the African players who has excelled at the highest stage.
“For me it is all about unity of Africans and celebrate what they have done in their careers and as role models in their countries. We should support one another. “It is a great achievement for Benjani and it’s a reunion for African players who played in Europe. He supported me in 2006 when I had my testimonial match.
“I have also supported other players in their farewell matches and was involved in Jay Jay Okocha’s and was also supposed to go to Samuel Kuffor’s match. It is great to have our own people supporting each other,” said Radebe.Walid Bouzid said even after a hectic season he felt he had to sacrifice and come and support the former Air Zimbabwe Jets and player Jomo Cosmos.
“I am excited. It’s amazing to be here for Benjani. When someone like Benjani does this it doesn’t mean you cannot make it because you had a tough season, you have to sacrifice. It is my first time to be in Zimbabwe and I want to see how much of a beautiful place it is,” said Bouzid.