By Eddie Chikamhi
Marshall Munetsi’s first head-to-head showdown against superstar Lionel Messi smashed the French Ligue 1 television viewing records, and created a stampede for tickets, sending prices soaring to as much as US$7 000.
Tickets, which had been sold for between US$40 and US$200, amid subdued interest in the game, in the first three weeks of the new season, exploded in value, as demand soared, in the days leading to Sunday’s match.
Many Stade Reims fans, who had bought their tickets at their basic value, started cashing in on the huge demand, amid rising interest in the game, from as far as Chile, South Korea, Egypt and India.
The Argentine superstar was making his debut for Paris Saint-Germain, in his first appearance in a professional football match, for any club, which is not Barcelona.
Messi was only introduced in the 66th minute, amid bedlam at a packed Stade Auguste-Delaune, as both sets of fans, in the capacity crowd of 21 000, chanted his name.
His historic appearance, and star quality, resulted in records being shattered, as millions tuned in to watch him play in a shirt different from the Barca shirt, which he had become synonymous with, throughout his stellar career.
According to L’Equipe newspaper, over 10.5 million viewers in France tuned in to get a glimpse of Messi and this shattered the Ligue One television viewing records, for a league match.
Television viewing ratings in Spain, where Messi still commands a huge following, also went through the roof with rights holders, Kosmos Holdings, describing it as the most-viewed French Ligue 1 match in Spanish history.
Gerard Pique, who replaced Messi as the Barca captain, owns Kosmos Holdings.
The company revealed there were an average of 343 000 spectators, and two million unique Spanish viewers, on Ibai Llanos’ Twitch channel, where it was aired for free, and 2 214 000 on average, for TV channel Telecinco.
In total, Kosmos Holdings said 6 734 000 spectators watched the match.
BT Sport have the rights for the French top-flight league, in the United Kingdom, and are also bracing to catch up on the huge interest, being generated by Messi’s presence.
The sight of Stade Reims players asking Messi to pose with their kids for selfies captured the feel-good factor of this match, and the Argentine superstar’s enduring star quality.
There was no joy for Munetsi, who went toe-to-toe against the six-time Ballon d’Or, as the Zimbabwe enforcer had a goal disallowed for offside as his team went down 0-2 on Sunday.
Munetsi is part of the Warriors’ 26-member squad, expected to start a training camp in Harare today, in preparation for the World Cup qualifying matches against South Africa and Ethiopia, in the next seven days.
Zimbabwe will host South Africa at the National Sports stadium this Friday and then travel to Ethiopia for their second Group G game next week.
Munetsi, is the last Warrior expected to report for camp today.
Apart from double-scorer Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Messi, Munetsi was surrounded by a galaxy of international footballers in that showdown.
They include Argentine forward, Angel Di Maria, Dutchman Georginio Wijnaldum and Marco Verratti, who recently won the 2020 UEFA Championship, with Italy.
Munetsi showed great composure, and maturity, which will be of great value for the Warriors, if he can be able to bring his fine club form, to the national team.
The 25-year-old midfielder will be hoping for a first appearance, for the Warriors, under the guidance of coach Zdravko Logarusic.
The Reims midfielder last featured for Zimbabwe in the 2-1 win against Zambia, during the 2021 AFCON qualifiers, in Lusaka last November.
With most of the Warriors regulars unavailable, Munetsi is now one of the senior players expected to play a leading role in the matches against South Africa and Ethiopia.
Most of the players are expected to be in camp, by the time the first training session gets underway this afternoon, at the National Sports Stadium.
Goalkeeper Talbert Shumba, Perfect Chikwenda and Orlando Pirates forward Terrence Dzvukamanja were the early birds to check into camp on Sunday.
They were followed by the South Africa-based quartet of Kuda Mahachi, Onismor Bhasera, Blessing Sarupinda and veteran goalkeeper, Washington Arubi, who is looking to reignite his romance with the World Cup games after six years in the wilderness.
Captain Knowledge Musona flew home yesterday and shortly afterwards, the team’s posterboy, Khama Billiat, arrived in Harare.
Team manager, Wellington Mpandare, said as of last night, they were still expecting the arrival of Knox Mutizwa, Martin Maphisa and Butholezwe Mahachi.
Washington Arubi, Talbert Shumba, Martin Mapisa
Onismor Bhasera, Divine Lunga, Takudzwa Chimwemwe, Alec Mudimu, Godknows Murwira, Kevin Moyo, William Sitima
Blessing Sarupinda, Jona Fabisch, Marshall Munetsi, Tafadzwa Rusike, Thabani Kamusoko, Kudakwashe Mahachi, Khama Billiat, Perfect Chikwende, Butholezwe Ncube, Ishmael Wadi, Farai Madhanaga, Silas Songani
Terrence Dzvukamanja, Tinotenda Kadewere, Knox Mutizwa, Knowledge Musona (captain). The Herald