ZIMBABWEANS Jordan Zemura and Marvelous Nakamba are set for a huge showdown when their teams clash in the opening match of the 2022-2023 English Premiership football season.
The 22-year-old Zemura, who is looking to make his debut at the big stage with recently-promoted AFC Bournemouth, is excited about the prospects following his fast rise from Cherries development to Premiership football.
Nakamba, on the other hand, is preparing for his fourth season with Aston Villa. The pair, along with the Zambian duo of Enock Mwepu (Brighton & Hove Albion) and Patson Daka (Leicester City), are the only players from the Southern African region who are set to be part of the tough English Premiership football in the coming season.
Bournemouth secured automatic promotion into the English Premier League having finished as runners-up in the Championship last term. According to the fixtures released yesterday, they are set to open their campaign against Aston Villa at home at the Vitality Stadium.
The season is due to begin on August 5 when Crystal Palace entertain Arsenal at home at Selhurst Park.
The next day, August 6, will see a number of other season-opening matches being played, including the showdown between Bournemouth and Aston Villa; and Zemura is confident he can continue to impress when he makes the step up to the prestigious English Premier League football.
Interestingly, Nakamba was one of the first people to call him soon after his team's promotion.
"I know Marv (Nakamba) well. He is an older brother to me but he was the first to congratulate me (when Bournemouth got promoted into the English Premiership). So I can't wait to meet him and play against him, God willing," Zemura told our sister paper, The Sunday Mail in a previous interview. Zemura, who featured for the Warriors at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, was born in England, but his parents were born and bred in Zimbabwe.
The 22-year-old is set to become the sixth Zimbabwean to play in the English Premier League after Peter Ndlovu, Benjani Mwaruwari, Brendan Galloway, Nakamba and legendary goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar.
Fellow Warriors defender Tendayi Darikwa came close after earning promotion with Burnley in 2016 but was released by the club before he kicked a ball in the elite league. It is the second time that Zimbabwean players are set to meet in opposing teams in the English Premier League. The first time was when 22-year-old Ndlovu lined-up against Grobbelaar, who, at 37 years, was nearing the twilight of his career, and was now at Southampton after ending his glittering career with Liverpool. The match between Grobbelaar's Southampton and Ndlovu's Coventry City, which attracted 14 505 spectators, ended in a goalless draw at The Dell on March 4, 1995.
It's going to be a whole new journey for Zemura. The ambitious young defender has his eyes on the glamour trip to Old Trafford and is even looking further to break the English Premier League "ceiling" and play Champions League football.
Having debuted in September 2020, Zemura ended that season with five senior appearances to his name. Zemura enjoyed more generous game time under Scott Parker last season and he has blossomed beyond expectation, playing 34 times and scoring three goals as one of the club's standout performers in the Championship.
Asked by the Bournemouth Daily Echo if he can impress again at the top level, Zemura insisted: "Yeah, 100 per cent. I'm young, I'm 22, I'm excited to be able to be at this age and achieve what I've achieved so far.
"But right now I can't stop here. I don't think my ceiling is the Premier League even, I want to be higher than that. I want to go and play in the Champions League.
"We've just got to go with the flow and enjoy the moment," he said. Bournemouth have some exciting games to welcome them in the first month. Parker's side will also face Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers in August.
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Among the key fixtures, they will also make the trip to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea on Boxing Day, which is also the first game back following the World Cup, and will kick-off 2023 with a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. The season will conclude with an away game with Everton on Sunday May 28.
For a large proportion of Parker's squad, they have already had a taste of the English Premier League earlier in their careers, many with the Cherries as they were relegated at the end of the 2019-20 campaign.
But for some of the club's younger talents, like Zemura, trips to play at the likes of Anfield, Old Trafford, Emirates Stadium and Stamford Bridge will be brand new experiences.
Looking ahead to the schedule being announced, Zemura told the Daily Echo: "That's when we can start looking.
"Especially when the fixtures come out it will be interesting to see who we get to go up against and I can't wait." As for which game the Zimbabwe international is most looking forward to, there was only one answer.
"I am eyeing up that game against Man United! I'm eyeing it up.
"But we've got to get back for pre-season when it's time, but for now we're just going to rest up, enjoy and have a good summer," said Zemura.
Nakamba, who is entering his fourth season with Aston Villa, is looking forward to the 2022-23 season. The former Club Brugge midfielder missed out major chunks of last season due to a sprain, which also forced him to miss this year's CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon in January.
Nakamba is currently enjoying his off-season break in Zimbabwe and last night he launched his junior football development project in Harare. Only a few days ago he was in Bulawayo where he officiated the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a sports centre that is being steered by his Foundation. The midfielder told The Herald he was looking forward to a fruitful season in the English Premier League.
"I am looking forward to a very exciting season next term given that I was dogged by injuries the last time out. I am very pleased with the chances that I have been given by the technical staff (at Aston Villa) and I am looking forward to keep on playing well," he said.
Nakamba made only 18 appearances across all competitions last season, as Villa finished in 14th place under Steven Gerard.
"The competition has always been very tough at the club and in the English Premier League. Generally, competition is part of the game, so competition is never a new phenomenon in football.
"I will go back and work hard in training to improve every aspect of my game. There is always room for improvement," he said.
After the trip to Bournemouth, Villa's first home fixture of the campaign sees Everton visit Villa Park on August 13. A trip to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace follows on August 20 before Carabao Cup Round Two action gets underway. Villa then entertain West Ham United on home soil before completing their opening six fixtures with a midweek trip to Arsenal and an encounter against champions Manchester City at Villa Park. Gerrard's outfit return to action with a mouth-watering home clash against Liverpool at Villa Park on Boxing Day while a trip to Tottenham Hotspur awaits on New Year's Eve.