Man City’s Benjani happy to be back in South Africa

2009-07-14 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — Manchester City’s Zimbabwean striker Benjamin Mwaruwari, known more commonly in Europe as simply Benjani, is determined to use the Vodacom Challenge to show he is ready to fight for his place in the first team after suffering a bad thigh injury last season that sidelined him for much of the English Premiership season.

Benjani, who moved to Europe after a successful stint playing for Jomo Cosmos in the Premier Soccer League, is hoping to renew old friendships and find the back of the net when City take on Orlando Pirates in the opening Challenge clash at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane on Saturday afternoon.

City then meet Kaizer Chiefs in Durban next Tuesday night (8.15 pm) before playing the winner of the Soweto Derby between Bucs and Amakhosi in Port Elizabeth next Thursday at Loftus in the Challenge final on July 25.

Benjani made a sensational start to his City career when he scored the winner in a 2-1 victory over champions Manchester United in the Manchester derby last season, but was plagued by injuries for the remainder of the season.

When asked how important the Vodacom Challenge is to him, Benjani replied: “I think it is very important.

“Last year I didn’t manage to do a proper pre-season because of the national team and I think it affected me that I came straight from Africa and into the league season.

“So this time I’ll be preparing better. Sometimes it is difficult to adjust [when you join a new team], but when I came I scored the goal [against Manchester United], but then it became difficult for me.

“I didn’t manage to play many games last season and I’m hoping this is a better one for me as it is frustrating for a player to be injured.”

The Zimbabwean national skipper has not forgotten it was the PSL that gave him his big break when Jomo Sono, the boss and coach of Cosmos, spotted him playing for Air Zimbabwe Jets and signed the Bulawayo-born striker in 1999.

Benjani was an instant success. He was voted as the PSL Player of the Season and Player’s Player of the Season in 2001 before leaving to join Swiss club Grasshoppers Zurich after scoring 34 goals in 33 matches for Ezenkosi.

He still keeps tabs on the local game. “I am following the game in South Africa, of course, and it is still a fantastic league for ambitious players to start in if they want to find their way to Europe.

“I think it is still a very good proving ground.”

He has a special message for Sono and his players, who won promotion to the PSL after being relegated at the end of the 2008 season.

“My message to them is simple. They need to play as well as they can. They need to be in the top flight, it’s very sad when your former team falls down, but let’s hope now they are back they can make a big impact.”

Benjani, as he became known after joining Portsmouth in the English Premiership in 2006, had previously played in France for AJ Auxerre where he scored 39 goals in 72 appearances.

He supports South Africa hosting the 2010 World Cup finals: “Of course, everyone is upbeat about the World Cup. It will be good — not just for South Africa, but for all the countries in Africa.

“What we are all waiting and hoping for is an African country to win it.”

— Sapa.

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