By Petros Kausiyo and Eddie Chikamhi
FOOTBALL flexed its pulling power and capacity to unite the nation as a carnival atmosphere engulfed the National Sports Stadium yesterday with a huge crowd turning out to watch Zimbabwe’s Legends take on Barcelona Legends in a lively exhibition match that rolled back the hands of time.
The country’s biggest sport brought together people from various sectors including senior Government officials led by Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko as an estimated 45 000 crowd were entertained to an exhibition clash by their yesteryear stars.
Former Dutch international Patrick Kluivert, with a brace of headers, had seemed to set the Barcelona Legends on course for their second victory on their African tour but the hosts rallied back with goals via an audacious Zenzo Moyo overhead kick and Edward Sadomba.
The Barcelona Legends were in Mozambique on Saturday where they won 1-0.
Despite the two sides’ players in yesterday’s match having retired from the professional game, they have continued to carry with them the class and the pulling power which was on show at the National Sports Stadium.
Even the current crop of Warriors and the Premiership clubs would have been green with envy as the former stars who were invited by ZIFA to play against Rivaldo and the Barcelona legends attracted a huge crowd that has been a rare sight on the domestic game in a long time.
In a Premiership season that has been blighted by increasing incidents of violence at matches, yesterday’s classic game at the giant stadium provided the right platform for a family outing with local musician Sulumani Chimbetu and some drum majorettes among those who provided entertainment prior to the match which was also beamed live on national television.
But on a day when ZIFA’s masterstroke to join hands with the Ministries of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture and that of Tourism and Hospitality to arrange the exhibition match paid huge dividends, those who were at the National Stadium and millions more who watched on television must have been left satisfied with what they saw.
Just the joy of watching some of their local legends such as like Peter Ndlovu, Moses Chunga, Madinda Ndlovu, Kaitano Tembo, Ronald Sibanda, Agent Sawu and Tinashe Nengomasha showcase what is still in their ageing legs as they went toe toe with Patrick Kluivert, Gianluca Zambrotta, Edgar Davids, Lodovic Guili, Rayco Garcia, and Edmilson, provided lasting images for the fans.
Crucially for the domestic game, the exhibition match also reunited it with some of the fans that had seemed to have turned their backs on the sport.
Attendance figures have dropped in the local game with the football family left in a soul searching exercise over the missing in the local game of late.
But it was football’s ability to once again flex its muscles and unify a nation that has been going through some economic hardships which captured the imagination and had the Zimbabwe captain of the day Peter Ndlovu purring.
Ndlovu, who captained the Warriors on their maiden appearance at the African Cup of Nations in 2004, was excited at turning back the hands of time after he was handed the armband.
Vice-President Mphoko was also enthralled by the pulling power of football and its potential to market the country as an investment and tourist destination.
The Vice President was honoured by Brazil legend Rivaldo who presented his shirt to him when he was substituted midway through the second half.
The mammoth crowd also got full value for their money after all but three of the Zimbabwe ex-players that had been invited for the match heeded the call while the visitors did not renege on their promise.
But the Barcelona Legends were miles ahead in terms of fitness.
The Warriors Legends found themselves trailing 2-0 at half time after Kluivert had headed in twice inside the opening 10 minutes past a static Msiska.
However, Zimbabwe’s second-half substitute Moyo replied with a spectacular bicycle kick soon after the restart before Sadomba levelled the terms with an 80th minute bullet.
Peter Ndlovu said the nation would always come first to them after taking time off from his busy schedule with South Africa giants Mamelodi Sundowns to reunite with his former teammates.
“I can imagine if we were only 10 years younger, we could be playing for the national team. This was good exhibition, good space for reunion with our old folks. It’s good that we can meet and mingle like this and showcase ourselves at our age.
“But Barcelona are always professional. You saw that they are quality . . . old but very focused people. Young people watching today can actually see what it is you can achieve when you concentrate and you want to showcase your talent. We learnt a lot. You can also see Sadomba came in and that he still has the energy and finished off a good move,” said Ndlovu.
The match featured a host of South Africa-based former Warriors players who included Edelbert Dinha, Kaitano Tembo, Tinashe Nengomasha, Wilfred Mugeyi, Ian Gorowa, Charles Yohane, and William Mugeyi.
Former Manchester City striker Benjani Mwaruwari was also part of the squad as coach Sunday Chidzambwa somehow found a way to accommodate all his 31 players including guest player Walter Magaya who also made a late cameo in this entertainment match much to the delight of the crowds.
Barcelona featured some of the fine yesteryear talents with Edgar Davids using his pair of 44-year old legs to remind of his hey days while France’s Ludovic Giuly was also impressive on the right flank. They visitors also had the likes of Gianluca Zambrotta, Francesco Coco, Giovanni Silva, Jose Edmilson and Rivaldo on show.
Zimbabwe’s side was headlined mostly by local based names such as Callisto Pasuwa, Brenna Msiska, Dumisani Mpofu, Moses Chunga, Johannes Ngodzo, Kennedy Nagoli and crowd favourite Ronald “Gidiza’’ Sibanda who still looks on top of his game despite having hung his boots years ago.
Madinda Ndlovu, who is now coaching in Botswana, also made an early cameo and entertained the crowds with his touches before he was replaced by Agent Sawu. The bulk of the former players who were on show yesterday have ventured into coaching with some such as Pasuwa, Gorowa and Madinda having a dance with the Warriors as national coaches.
Others like Tembo, who is building a name for himself at SuperSport United, Wilfred Mugeyi and Yohane are also plying their coaching trade in South Africa.
Gorowa hailed ZIFA for arranging the match, which he said had helped Zimbabwe’s former players to reunite.
“There are some faces I have not met in a very long time since we stopped playing but thanks to this gesture we were reunited and I think it is a positive move that our football needed,’’ Gorowa said. The Herald