The Harare International Airport came to a standstill yesterday as Europe and African football stars arrived for the Benjani Mwaruwari testimonial match.
The Stars, dubbed “Friends of Benjani” will play against the Warriors at the National Sports Stadium this afternoon.
Thousands of supporters were at the airport to create an electric atmosphere reminiscent of the one when the Brazilian soccer team arrived in Zimbabwe for a friendly match two years ago.
Some of the supporters arrived as early as 11am in anticipation of the stars’ arrival, although three players had already arrived by then.
Prior to the grand arrival, a wave of confusion had engulfed the supporters as to the actual time the players would touch down at the airport.
Some reports had suggested that the contingent will arrive aboard a chartered plane from South Africa.
However, the organisers later announced that the players will arrive in batches.
Big Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Lucas Radebe touched down around midday. As the duo approached the arrivals lounge, the pushing and shoving intensified as supporters screamed while the others sang and blew vuvuzelas.
The two were quickly whisked away in one of the waiting Range Rovers that was parked outside to a local hotel. Almost an hour had passed when the second group emerged. The group had Senegal’s Khalilou Fadiga, Lisa Musa, Tayeb Bouzid, Pascal Chimbonda, Emmanuel Eboue and the colourful El-Hadji Diouf.
The former Liverpool winger Diouf proved to be the most popular with local fans as they mobbed the star while overzealous security details tried to disperse the mob. The security people even denied [photographers to take pictures while only the state-controlled media was allowed to do interviews.
Just like the first batch, the group were also whisked away in top of the range Range Rovers.
Nigeria stars of Austin Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu were expected in the country late yesterday evening alongside Christopher Samba and Curtis Codrington.
Also expected later in the evening were Lomana Lualua and Emmanuel Frimpong.
Ghana’s trio of John Pantsil, the Amoteng brothers of Andishiey and Akosua were the first to arrive in the country yesterday early in the morning. Glenn Verbauwhede also arrived yesterday morning.
Chelsea’s Didier Drogba was expected in the country this morning.
The match will be curtain raised by a clash between the Southern Region Legends and their Northern Region counterparts.
Junior football players from Bantu Rovers in Bulawayo will also watch the match after winning the Benjani Mwaruwari Youth Festival in the City of Kings last weekend. Four buses have been organised from Bulawayo to ferry fans.
And contrary to reports in both Zimbabwe and South Africa, Bafana Bafana skipper Steven Pienaar will not be part of the match.
Pienaar was invited to play in the game, which is scheduled to feature ex-Bafana players Aaron Mokoena, Lucas Radebe and Doctor Khumalo, but has turned down the request.
He is currently in camp with the senior national squad ahead of their 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifiers against Ethiopia (home, June 3) and Botswana (away, June 9) and will not be released to play.
“He is definitely not going to game in Zimbabwe,” a Safa source said.
“There has been some discussions around the release of players for the PSL awards evening on Sunday night (tomorrow), but definitely no request for Pienaar to go to Harare. And I am quite sure permission would not have been granted had there been a request in any event.”
The match is a farewell from Mwaruwari to the Zimbabwean national side after he formally quit international football this year having last played for The Warriors in November 2010. He will play for the national team against a host of Africa’s top players in his testimonial.