BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
ZIMBABWE international forward Tino Kadewere has surpassed former Warriors captain Benjani Mwaruwari’s explosive start in his debut season in France where he won rave reviews after joining from Swiss club Grasshoppers.
Benjani arrived in France to join AJ Auxerre in 2002 after a one season stint with the Swiss club and the Undertaker, as he was affectionately known in Zimbabwe for the manner in which he buried opponents under an avalanche of goals, did not take time to make an impact in Ligue 1. He was voted player of the month in two successive months in September and October, overshadowing the likes of former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba then playing for Guingamp and later Marseille. Although the former Ivory Coast captain went on to finish as the top goalscorer in the French top division with an incredible 17 league goals with Mwaruwari far behind with seven goals in the 2002-2003 season, the Zimbabwean’s stock had risen rapidly already.
For a Zimbabwean player to make headlines in such influential newspapers like L’ Equipe — the biggest circulating sports daily in France, especially considering he was behind French World Cup winner, Djibril Cisse in terms of the perking order, it was something to behold. Although Mwaruwari later moved to Portsmouth and then Manchester City, he had already left an indelible mark in the French Ligue 1.
But Kadewere has already surpassed that feat after joining Olympic Lyon this season. The former Harare City forward, who has also played in Sweden, has had an impressive start for Lyon playing 24 matches, starting 20 of those league matches and scoring an impressive nine goals — all none penalties.
Factor in the solitary goal he grabbed against Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, outshining world superstars like Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, he has proved he has everything any coach would expect from a striker.
By the time the season ends, he could be well over that tally considering he is one of the key forwards at the club.
Kadewere — a key member of the Zimbabwe national team— is expected to be part of the Warriors attack in the upcoming 2021 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers which will see them make the trip to Botswana on March 22 before hosting Zambia the following week.
With concerns over the fitness of team captain Knowledge Musona, who has been inactive for his Belgian club AS Eupen for some time, Kadewere might find himself with a bigger responsibility in the event he fails to make it for the match.
The Warriors skipper — a key member of the Belgian outfit, has not featured for the club since suffering an injury in the 4-1 defeat to Genk.
It is a major concern for the Warriors coach as he needs him the most because of his power and influence ahead of the crucial encounters against Botswana and Zambia next month.
Kaizer Chiefs forward Khama Billiat is also injured, having last played on January 9 in the 2-0 defeat at home against Maritzburg and he might not play a part in the upcoming qualifiers for the right to play at the 2021 Afcon finals to be held in Cameroon in June.
Algeria, with 10 points, have already booked a ticket to Cameroon while Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia will fight for the remaining slot in the group.
Zimbabwe, in second place in their group with five points, have all the advantage as they have an away fixture against Botswana on March 22 before taking on Zambia at home a week later. Botswana are third on four points with Zambia at the foot of the table with only three points.
With the top two teams qualifying for the tournament, the Warriors need a win in their match against Botswana to be guaranteed a place at the tournament.
Zimbabwe can, however, still afford to draw against Botswana and then beat Zambia in the final match to qualify.
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