The lack of international friendlies played by the Warriors used to annoy me. I subscribe to the idea that: The more games you play, the better you get. During the months before the 2010 World Cup I would get my wish. Zifa (Zimbabwe Football Association) announced that the five-time world champions Brazil, were coming to town!
The days leading to the match, Harare was abuzz with excitement. People still couldn’t believe that they were going to see their heroes in the flesh: Robinho, Júlio César, Thiago Silva and especially Kaká, captured the imagination. Not all of the chatter was positive, the local press was rightly suspicious of the funding for the match.
Since 2007, players of local clubs, the national team and Zifa officials have been involved in the biggest scandal to hit Zim football, Asiagate. Spanning 300 matches over three continents, controversies include local club Monomotapa FC masquerading as the Warriors in Malaysia and throwing matches for thousands of dollars. Henrietta Rushwaya the Zifa CEO at the time, was at the heart of the scandal but also played a big role in scheduling this illustrious match. For most people, it was a case of eating your food without minding where it came from.
Personally, I had never been to a football stadium so all the brouhaha didn’t dampen my mood. My mother’s friend Gavin was kind enough to get a ticket for me. Match day, we were also joined by a young man who was my junior and an older man. Unfortunately the ravages of time have caused me to forget their names.
On the way to the National Sports Stadium, the road was full of cars with Zim flags. The energy was palpable. We parked at the old man’s home in Milton Park, one of the oldest suburbs in Harare and a few kilometers away from the stadium.
The buzzing sound of the vuvuzelas was everywhere, comparable to a swarm of angry bees. I liked it. The whole stadium erupted as both sets of players came out for the warm-up. I recognized Captain Benjani Mwaruwari who had endured a difficult season at Manchester City, plagued by injuries. There was also Knowledge Musona who was scoring for fun in South Africa with Kaizer Chiefs. Both men were our primary goal threats.
For the South Americans, Gilberto Silva and Michel Bastos who were heading the ball to each other, were the players I really wanted to see. The former was part of “The Invincibles” Arsenal side that went 49 games unbeaten, the latter played for Olympique Lyonnais, a favourite of mine in France.
A cacophony of whistles and cheers rained down from the terraces as President Robert Mugabe appeared on the screen. A divisive figure, the variety of races, classes and political opinions present, guaranteed a mixed reception. The reaction to Kaká was more unanimous. Every man and their dog serenaded the 2007 FIFA Player of the Year, while Benjani enjoyed equal adulation.
After both anthems were sung, the friendly hostilities began. The coaches Norman Mapeza and Dunga had both represented their countries as players. It would be an intriguing battle. The Warriors were well organized, energetically hounding Dunga’s men for the ball. Bastos a winger playing fullback was having a particular torrid time, unable to handle Zim’s nimble front line.
Kaká wasn’t up to much either, though the way he glided with the ball reminded everyone of his class. His counterpart Ovidi Karuru, blazed over when it was easier to score. Knowledge Musona’s powerful header drew a diving safe from César, who injured his shoulder in the process and was substituted by Heurelho Gomes.
Mapeza would’ve been pleased with proceedings until Luís Fabiano was fouled on the edge of our box, five minutes from halftime. Bastos stepped over the ball, I out of everyone in the stadium knew what was coming. He smashed a left footed shot right into the top corner. Edmore Sibanda in goal was crucified.
“Bara!” Exclaimed a fat man next to me. The word means bullet in Shona and is also reserved for top class strikes like the one we had just witnessed. Two minutes later the lead was doubled. Maicon angled a long ball to Robinho, shrugging the attentions of the defender, the winger made no mistake with the finish. We hadn’t played badly by any stretch of the imagination, but Dunga’s men had that extra quality.
The second half was a different kettle of fish. Brazil had seized control of the game and duly added a third when Elano tapped in fellow substitute Dani Alves’ drag back. All we wanted to see now was a Zim goal, which we thought we had when Gomes’ net rippled, but it was the wrong side of the goal.
As the sun set and the floodlights lit the pitch, the humming of the vuvuzelas calmed down and a steady stream of people headed for the exits. Gilberto along with his midfield companions, sucked out what little life the game had with a masterpiece in ball retention.
The blow of the final whistle was greeted with applause. The stars we had only seen on TV had performed for us in the flesh and our Warriors fought valiantly. Dunga would have been satisfied with the competitive nature of the match, Mapeza with the promise shown by his squad. The match wet the appetite for a dream we as a nation still have to this day: To compete with teams like Brazil at a World Cup.