Zimbabwe has been on the campaign to market itself as a destination that can host international sportsmen. In previous years, former world class players have ventured to Zimbabwe with the aim of playing an exhibition match with the local legends. Stars that we once saw on TV are now in front of you and all you had to do was take a drive down to National Sports Stadium.
Last Wednesday I found myself sitting in National Sports Stadium at 11am eager to watch the World Class Legends play Zimbabwe’s very own legends. On the visitors’ team were the likes of Julio “The Beast” Baptista (played for Real Madrid and Arsenal), Fernado Morientes (former Liverpool striker) and a whole lot more. The hosts fielded names like Harlington Shereni and Stanley Chirambadare who represented the Warriors on numerous occasions and cemented their names into folklore.
It truly was the meeting of legends! However, the marketing for this spectacle was poorly done. Social media posts claimed gates opened at 09h00 (they opened at 11h00) and there was no kick-off time. I won’t lie, this was extremely annoying! The least the organisers could have done is be transparent about the times. A massive knock on what would have a great experience. The attendance was low as a result of poor planning.
The crowd was entertained throughout the day with LIVE entertainment. Something Zimbabwe knows how to do well – get the crowd FIRED UP! Various local artists set the mood right throughout the day and the crowd packed themselves in front of the stage to watch their favourite artists perform for FREE.
The audience were appreciative of the spectacle being performed in front of them. Some songs they sung with the artists and in others, the artist was made to step aside. The fans had taken over! From children to the elderly, they had a vibrant vibe to it.
There was a warm up match between Dynamos and Highlanders as a curtain raiser to the clash of the Legends, and boy was that a match. It was not treated as a friendly. The tackles were hard, the shots were venomous, and the play was intricate. Both teams were not about to let the other win. Pride was on the line! The match ended in draw which meant a penalty shootout to decide a winner. I’m a fan of African penalty shootouts because of their unpredictable nature. They can end 3-1 or 13-12! I was hoping for the latter.
Dynamos being the Harare based team, their support was strong. Highlanders are based in Bulawayo but they had their fans in the stands as well. To the dismay of the Harare based team, they lost the shootout and the celebrations indicated what the match meant for the team. Local soccer may not get the glitz and the glam, but the passion is there from the players and the fans.
Next up, the Zimbabwe Legends vs World Class Legends.
The visitors were given the royal treatment when they arrived into Zimbabwe. They got to experience the finest tourist attractions Zimbabwe has to offer, a move to show Zimbabwe is capable of hosting sporting celebrities. The country has a long way to go in terms of hosting hundreds or thousands of individuals with celebrity status, however moves are being made to accommodate the world’s icons.
The players were welcomed with cheers from the Zimbabweans. Being the legends that they are and appreciating the love from the crowd, they waved back. Some fans were lucky to have a kiss blown in their direction. Someone’s day was made!
The game kicked off and within minutes, the visitors were in the lead. The fans were expecting a lot more from their team and cheered their team on. Soon after the first went in, the Zimbabwean keeper found himself isolated and up against 3 attackers. It was 0-2! Blink and a third was tapped in. Not to worry, Zimba… 0-4 to the visitors. The crowd dimmed down and decided to watch the match and enjoy the experience. The Zimbabwe Legends made good attempts to reply but the shots did not trouble the keeper.
A 5th was slotted in by the visitors and the exhibition was fast becoming a rugby score. The visitors dialled it down and sat back whilst Zimbabwe came at them. Substitutions were made by both sides which brought life to both teams. It was at this point I lost track of the score but admired the goals that flew in. Zimbabwe beat the keeper with a stellar effort from outside the box and the visitors put in another in reply.
The highlight of the day was the entrance of the country’s president during the match. Greeted by the fans with loud cheers, the president proceeded towards the bench to introduce himself to the players. It didn’t stop there! The ref then blew his whistle to halt play as the president continued to greet the players. That’s right! The president of Zimbabwe stopped a match to say hi #BossMoves. The game soon continued when the president finished his introductions. Unfortunately he didn’t stay till the final whistle although the match was long over.
Zimbabwe may not be a top sport playing nation in Africa, however the country knows how to host. The ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 Qualifiers were held in Zimbabwe and the visiting teams were treated to the beauty of Zimbabwe. There is a tri-nation series scheduled for July allowing for more teams to experience Zimbabwe. The rugby team hosted Morocco and will host Namibia in August. The soccer team are 6 time COSAFA Cup Champions which means the trophy cabinet will be something to look at.
Zimbabwe is surprisingly beautiful. Believe me! Ya, things can be badly communicated or the president can save face for the hosts, but every country has its ups and downs.
Let Zimbabwe surprise you with its beauty.