Charles Mabika Special Correspondent
IT has been dubbed the “Penalty of the Century” but, as we digest and celebrate events from the Camp Nou on Sunday night, we shouldn’t be fooled that this hasn’t been done on a football field before, and join the bandwagon claiming this is the finest execution from the spot ever.
Because it was something done by Lionel Messi, the finest footballer in the world today, and Luis Suarez, who is scaling the heights and attaining greatness at Barcelona, on the grand stage of the Camp Nou before millions of television viewers, certainly made THAT cheeky penalty a fine piece of art.
No wonder why some respected football writers are even dubbing it the ”Penalty of the Century”, something that hasn’t been seen before on a football pitch this decade, something from the heavens that only special footballers like Messi and Suarez could execute.
Some have called it “outrageously mercurial,” others have termed it “amazingly breathtaking,” and the rest of the world was, once again, left marvelling at another magical moment of fantasy from the diminutive Argentine superstar and his strike partner from Uruguay.
On Sunday night, Messi was involved in a sensational incident when he took a penalty and rather than go for the traditional way of simply shooting at goal, he passed the ball to Suarez, and the Uruguayan ghosted in from behind, and ahead of the Celta Vigo defence, to stab the ball home past the goalkeeper.
In the euphoric aftermath of this goal, millions around the world went on social media in accentuated praise, with some sections of the media even calling it the “Penalty of the Century,” while other conservatives have criticised the Barcelona duo of lacking respect for their opponents.
Former England captain Gary Lineker, who is now a leading broadcaster, questioned those who were claiming Messi and Suarez lacked respect for their opponents, when they combined for that penalty, arguing that the duo gave football the entertainment that it should always have.
Some even questioned whether it was right for the referee to award a goal to Barcelona.
Well, if this was the 21st Century’s finest penalty event, then the “Penalty of the 20th Century” happened right here in Zimbabwe.
Well, don’t be . . .
Back in 1979, on a warm Sunday afternoon in May, Harare giants Dynamos hosted Kadoma gold miners, Rio Tinto, in a league tie at Gwanzura before a packed house.
With the tie seemingly headed for a goalless stalemate, DeMbare’s speedy forward, Oliver “Flying Saucer” Kateya, was upended in the box as he closed in for the kill and the referee awarded a penalty to the hosts.
It was then that a seemingly Hollywood script sequence of events — so similar to the Messi-led symphony just before the penalty was taken — unfolded at the Highfield stadium.
I was privileged to be one of the witnesses.
Diminutive Dynamos creative genius George “Mastermind” Shaya (amazing, isn’t it, how similar in size and stature he was to Messi?) rounded up his team-mates for a “mini discussion” just outside the box.
Being the usual Glamour Boys’ penalty taker, Shaya placed the ball on the spot, took a few steps back and then calmly moved forward as Gwanzura held its breath.
What followed plunged the 15 000-plus crowd into stunned silence and shock for they had never seen anything like it before.
”The Mastermind” rolled a pass forward and the late industrious midfielder, Kuda Muchemeyi, raced into the box and calmly slotted the ball past Rio Tinto ‘keeper, Raphael Phiri . . . in exactly the same manner that Barcelona scored that fourth goal at the Camp Nou.
I’m not sure whether the match officials then knew about the legality of that goal because it took some moments for the referee to signal a goal.
But what I know for sure is that no one in the whole stadium believed what they had just seen as a hush of silence took over, instead of the usual explosion of joy that normally accompanies a goal, especially a late goal for that matter.
Questions began flying.
“What had Shaya done?”
“Was this kind of penalty allowed in the game?”
Dynamos won the match 1-0, courtesy of that penalty.
The way Messi leads the Barcelona ensemble with his unbelievable vision, guile, pinpoint passing and out-of-this world finishes, was the same manner that “The Mastermind” — in my mind the greatest footballer ever produced in this country — operated the control tower at the Blue Army’s headquarters.
Shaya would out-think the opposition, especially when the chips were down, in order to rescue the situation for his side.
I recall former Dynamos’ skipper and stalwart defender, Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambwa, revealing that whenever Dynamos were trailing, as soon as any other player gained possession, he would immediately look for the little “Mastermind” to pass to . . . in the hope of a goal being masterminded. It’s really sad that Shaya never got the chance to try his luck in Europe (he once went for trials with Portuguese giants Benfica in 1977 where the move was scuttled because of this country’s then isolation due to the illegal colonial regime) because I’m sure he would have prospered there.
And who knows what could have happened? Every time I watch Messi strutting his ingenious repertoire on the world’s stage, I’m proud that in this country, I was lucky enough to see another little genius do exactly the same kind of stuff during his heyday. And, on Sunday evening, as I watched that ‘Penalty of the Century’ being converted at the Camp Nou, I also felt privileged that I was there at Gwanzura, 37 years ago, when Shaya and his teammate produced that kind of magic to score an extraordinary goal from the penalty spot.