04-21-20 by Spotlight Zimbabwe

Who are the greatest Zimbabwean players ever?

Michael Madyira 

As the Southern African nation celebrated Independence last weekend, Goal ranked the greatest players to ever represent the Warriors

Zimbabwe has been has had celebrated football stars who have excelled in both club football and the national team.

It was a tough call to drop the likes of George Shaya, the late Freddy Mukwesha, Norman Mapeza, John Phiri and Moses Chunga who all enjoy legendary status.

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    #6 Marvelous Nakamba

    The latest Zimbabwean to play in the Premier League and Uefa Champions League, Nakamba signed for Aston Villa last year and has already reached a League Cup final with the Midlanders.

    Only four other players from the Southern African country have played in the Premier League, and for Nakamba to arrive on English shores represents a significant feat.

    Starting his professional career in the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League as a 17-year-old with Bantu Rovers, before moving to AS Nancy still as a teenager, Nakamba rose via Vitesse to play in the Champions League with Club Brugge.

    The playmaker made his national team debut against Malawi in 2015 under Callisto Pasuwa after having been ignored by previous national team coaches, and the 26-year-old has now established himself to be an important part of the Warriors, participating at the last two previous Africa Cup of Nations editions.

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    #5 Benjani Mwaruwari

    Regarded as a player for big games during his playing career, the former striker scored at Old Trafford on two occasions, first in Portsmouth colours and then for Manchester City.

    He also had goals to his name at Stamford Bridge and Anfield, and a brace in Blackburn Rovers’ 3-1 win over Liverpool at Ewood Park.

    These were Benjani’s major highlights in the Premier League, where he made 118 appearances and scored 26 goals while turning out for Portsmouth, City, Sunderland and Blackburn.

    Lifting the 2008 FA Cup with Pompey was his biggest achievement during his time in England.

    With few Zimbabwean players having played Uefa Champions League football, Benjani remains the only player from his country to score in this elite club competition.

    He found the back of the net twice in six Champions League games for Auxerre, with whom he also won the French Cup twice.

    Benjani boasts of 44 international caps and 29 goals, including one at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations in the 2-1 victory over Ghana, before taking over the captain’s armband from Peter Ndlovu.

    “Obviously, playing for the national team stands out as a major highlight of my career,” Benjani told The Standard in 2014.

    “The first time I was called up for national team camp I remember Clemens Westerhof had named almost 20 foreign-based players. I did not feel inferior and was never afraid of being dropped.

    “I broke into the national team to find big guys like Bruce Grobbelaar, Peter and Adam Ndlovu, Norman Mapeza, Kennedy Nagoli, Kenneth Chihuri. It came as a surprise.”

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    #4 Khama Billiat

    The Kaizer Chiefs attacker might have failed to secure a move to Europe, but he remains one of the best players ever to come from Zimbabwe.

    He has rocked the South African football scene where he has played for the majority of his career, and was selected the 2016 Premier Soccer League Player of the Season.

    By playing an instrumental role in Sundowns’ winning the 2016 Caf Champions League, Billiat became the second Zimbabwean to lift the African premier club competition after Chris Samakweri won it with Tout Puissant Mazembe.

    Now 29-years-old, he is increasingly crucial to the national team, for whom he has scored 16 goals in 43 games and was the only Zimbabwean to find the target at the 2019 Afcon tournament in Egypt.

    Last September, he rescued the Warriors from possible embarrassment at the hands of Somalia with an injury time goal as Zimbabwe faced elimination from the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers.

    Two months later Billiat struck a brace as Zimbabwe recorded a key victory away in Zambia in a 2021 Afcon qualifier.

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    #3 Knowledge Musona

    The current Zimbabwe captain moved directly from playing academy football in his homeland to sign for Kaizer Chiefs, where he immediately cemented his place in the team in 2008.

    He topped the PSL scorers’ chart in his second season at Chiefs, earning himself a move to Hoffenheim.

    Although Bundesliga football proved tough for him at Hoffenheim and Augsburg, Musona went back to Chiefs before signing for KV Oostende in Belgium where he managed 41 goals in 112 appearances over four seasons.

    He later on failed to make a mark at Anderlecht, leading to loan spells at Lokeren and Eupen, although the majority of his contribution has been felt with the national team.

    Musona became Zimbabwe’s main striker when Benjani retired and has since featured in 44 Warriors games, scoring 22 goals including a hat-trick against Liberia in 2017.

    The striker turns 30 in June and still has many years ahead of him with the national side.

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    #2 Peter Ndlovu

    Arriving at Coventry City as an 18-year-old in 1991, Ndlovu became the first African to play in the newly established Premier League the following year.

    He had already made another piece of history back home by twice winning the Zimbabwe Soccer Star of the Year as a teenager, a feat yet to be matched today.

    He announced his Premier League arrival by scoring away at Arsenal and later on followed that up with a hat-trick away at Liverpool in March 1995 to break a 38-year-old record of a visiting striker netting three times at Anfield.

    Scoring 35 goals in 152 Premier League appearances for Coventry, Ndlovu also spent time in the second tier with Birmingham City, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United.

    Captaining Zimbabwe at the 2004 and 2006 Africa Cup of Nations finals, he also became the first skipper to help the Warriors qualify for the Afcon.

    Ndlovu’s time with the national team further endeared him to supporters due to his dedication.

    On a number of occasions, he would play for Sheffield United on a Friday or Saturday before immediately flying to Harare where he would land on a Sunday morning and then play a crucial national team match that afternoon.

    “He was a committed player, especially when it came to the national team where sometimes he had to play two taxing games within three days,” his agent Winston Makamure told The Standard in 2014.

    “I flew with him on one of the flights to Harare to make sure he was alright. He was faced with a pressure game and he slept throughout flight from London to Harare without food or water.”

    He is the most-capped Warriors player ever with 100 games played, and also managed 38 goals to become the highest scorer in the national team’s history.

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    #1 Bruce Grobbelaar

    The former Liverpool goalkeeper was the first African to win the Uefa Champions League (then called the European Cup) when he conquered the continent with the Reds in 1984, and remains the only Zimbabwean to have won the competition.

    In his 13 years at Anfield, Grobbelaar established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, helping Liverpool to six league titles and three FA Cups.

    That puts him among the most successful goalkeepers to have played in England, and his achievements outweigh – significantly – any accomplishments by other current and former Zimbabwean footballers.

    The fact that he was heavily involved in Liverpool’s dominance in the 1980s sets him apart from his compatriots.

    With 32 caps for Zimbabwe, it would have been possible for Grobbelaar to become the most capped Warriors player had he not taken a break from international football between 1984 and 1992.

    Zimbabwe never achieved anything of note during his time with the Warriors although they came close to qualifying for the 1994 Fifa World Cup. Today, he feels that Zimbabwe never appreciated his talent during his career.

    “There was a young boy who was born in Africa and played the beautiful game, football. This boy was taught to play by Africans of all races. He competed against the best in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe from a young age,” Grobbelaar told The Standard in 2012.

    “This boy grew to be a man and represented his country with dignity which was unfortunately taken away from him by the people in power. Now that man is elsewhere, teaching what he learned in Africa to people who appreciate his talent.

    “Like so many others, he may never go back to where his heart is, and that is Zimbabwe.”

    Goal.com

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