By Langton Nyakwenda
A first-ever appearance in the European Championship quarter-finals for Ukraine has made football fans in the East European nation euphoric, and a Zimbabwean is set to take part in the domestic football fete when the country’s 2021-2022 Premier League season kicks off this week. Born in Bulawayo 22 years ago, Griffin Sabatini is back at Ukraine top-flight side SC Dnipro-1 after a loan stint with Scottish League One side Airdrieonians.
Ukraine qualified for the quarter-finals for the first time at the just-ended UEFA European Football Championship, which was won by Italy.
Although Ukraine lost 4-0 to England in their last-eight tie, that feat was largely celebrated in the soccer-loving nation. Focus, however, now shifts to the local Premiership, which kicks off on Friday.
The 22-year-old Sabatini is a Swiss citizen, having also played most of his youth football in that country, but the Highlanders junior product has been talking a lot about Zimbabwe of late. He is eligible to play for the Warriors as he is yet to be capped in Switzerland colours.
“Zimbabwe is very important to me . . . I must stress that. That’s where I was born; it’s my roots,” Sabatini told The Sunday Mail Sport.
“I love the country, culture and people. I would love to represent the national team.” SC Dnipro-1 are not as popular as defending champions Dynamo Kyiv or serial league winners Shakhtar Donetsk, but Sabatini feels he can build his career at the club, which was promoted into the elite league in 2019.
The team finished seventh on the 14-team log last term.
“I am happy. I am a returnee at SC Dnipro-1 in the Ukraine Premier League. It’s an exciting league and I am hoping to do well with the club,” he said. He was born in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city of Bulawayo and played for Highlanders from Under-14 right through to the second team.
“My football journey started in Bulawayo and I am proud of that.”
He subsequently moved to Switzerland. “I played in Switzerland my whole youth career. I became an Under-17 Swiss champion. Then I went to play college football in the United States.
“From there, I moved to Spain and played against big clubs. I moved back to Switzerland where I played with the Under 23s for a second division club and then got my move to Ukraine,” he said.
He now hopes to move his career a notch higher using the Ukraine Premier League as a springboard.
According to FIFA, Ukraine is emerging as a competitive footballing nation. The European country plans to have one million people engaged in football by 2024.
Sabatini is one of the scores of players of Zimbabwe origin dotted across Europe and America that have reignited their interest with their motherland and hope to turn out for the Warriors.
Zimbabwe’s performances in the last four years, during which they have qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations finals consecutively, have attracted interest from a number of players who trace their roots to this country.
Former Everton defender Brendan Galloway, Adam Chicksen (Milton Keynes), Jordan Zemura (Bournemouth) and Kundai Benyu, who is playing for Vestri in Iceland, are among a host of players who have either already featured for the Warriors or pledged their allegiance to Zimbabwe. The Sunday Mail