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Benjani In Okocha Tribute Match

ZIMBABWE skipper Benjani Mwaruwari is set to feature in a testimonial match for Super Eagles skipper Austin Jay Jay Okocha scheduled for next month.

This Day newspaper of Nigeria reports that Benjani’s name is among a list of African stars which includes Nwankwo Kanu of Portsmouth. Kanu has thrown his weight behind efforts to get top English Premiership stars in Nigeria next month for his former national team captain.

Okocha, who finally retired from the national team after the Eagles’ bronze placing at the 2006 Nations Cup finals in Egypt, is planning to have a testimonial match in Warri on June 26 to finally call time on his football career.

The paper reported that in order to make the occasion a success, word has been sent out to Kanu who took over from Okocha as Eagles skipper, to use his closeness with the Premiership stars to ensure they make the long trip to Nigeria.

The task of convincing the players to show up for the former PSG star is made all the more dicey by the fact that the game will be taking place during the holiday period when many of the players would rather take a breather after a long and demanding season.

“It’s not as if Jay Jay is not a known name, but the truth is if two big names of Nigerian football combine, the effect will be greater on these other stars.

“Besides we all saw how Kanu was able to attract some of the biggest names in the Premiership to Fratton Park for his ‘Kanu and Friends’ heart foundation fund raiser last year.

We want him to do the same for this project,” explained a member of the committee organising the event.

Some of the faces that showed up at Portsmouth’s ground last May for the ‘Kanu and Friends Match’ were Arsenal stars Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure.

Also present were Michael Essien, who surprised many by playing the full duration of the game barely 24 hours after helping Chelsea defeat Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup final, Benjani and Sully Muntari, who put pen to paper on his Portsmouth deal after the match.

Kanu, who confirmed that he had already opened talks with the players, also confirmed that he too would be giving up some of his holiday to make the trip to Warri.

Meanwhile Benjani believes the current season, which is about to finish in two weeks, is the best he has ever heard in Europe.

The City striker has scored 15 goals this season, and is confident of adding “a few more” to his tally in the remaining two games against Liverpool and Middlesborough.

“This is one season I will always remember; personally I think I did better than previous seasons. I am hoping we win the next games which will determine our (Manchester City’s fate in Europe next season,” Benjani told the Zimbabwe Independent from Manchester.

Benjani said he would continue working hard ahead of Zimbabwe’s 2010 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers next month. “

“It is a wonderful feeling to be recognised worldwide but all this would not have been possible without other players. Teamwork has been instrumental for me,” he said.

Benjani who has played for Grasshoppers Switzerland (July 2001 — July 2002), AJ Auxerre — France (July 2002 — January 2006), Portsmouth (January 2006 — June 2008) and presently Manchester City said he was hoping for even “better season”.

”I am grateful with the support I have received; everyone (Portsmouth and Manchester City) has been great. It gave me more confidence,” he said

Manchester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson who will be leaving at the end of the season has hailed Benjani as a fantastic signing for the Eastlands club.

Benjani sealed a big-money move on transfer deadline day, but complications with the deal meant his debut was delayed until the Manchester derby where he scored on his debut.

“Of course I knew about him. You know if you work in the Premier League, if you follow top scorers.
“But to be honest, it was very late. I couldn’t dream that he was available.

“Suddenly, I got a phone call 24 hours before the window closed. Of course we took him because I thought that was what we needed, the perfect player for us.”

Benjani is fifth top scorer in the Premier league behind Ronaldo — 28, Emmanuel Adebayor — 24, Fernando Torres — 22 Santa Cruz — 17.

He has scored some of the season’s great goals, some great volleys, with the vision to see opportunities and the wit to outpace any opponent and some with his head like a central striker.

“I take each game as it comes and always do my best, our aim in to play in Europe next season,” he said.
On why he did not celebrate after a well-taken goal against Portsmouth, Benjani said he did so out of respect for his former teammates.

“I declined to celebrate the goal afterwards out of respect to my former club. It takes time to divorce your self from your former club. It is only less than three months since I left,” he said. — This Day/Staff Writer.

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