By Robson Sharuko
Senior Sports Editor
WHEN Chris Woods produced a first-half blitz to power Burnley to a crushing victory over Wolves on Sunday, it brought New Zealand into an exclusive club of nations.
The countries whose players have scored, at least a hat-trick, in the English Premiership.
Only 46 countries, about a quarter of the number of the nations around the world, have provide a footballer, who has scored a hat-trick, in the league, with the globe’s biggest spectator patronage.
Woods, the gangly Burnley attacking spearhead, scored all his three goals, in the first 44 minutes, and became the first New Zealander, to score a Premiership hat-trick.
It also marked the first time someone has scored an English Premiership hat-trick, in the first half, in 23 years.
Woods also became his team’s first player, to score more than two goals against Wolves, since in 90 years.
The last, to achieve such a feat, was the legendary George Beel, widely considered the greatest striker to play for Burnley, who scored a hat-trick for them against Wolves, in 1931. Beel died on December 30, 1980.
But, why should this matter to us, as Zimbabwe?
Well, the home of the Warriors is one of the 46 countries who have provided, at least, one player who has scored a hat-trick in the English Premiership.
l Zimbabwe are the only Southern African country whose footballers have managed to score a hat-trick, in the English Premiership, providing the game’s fans, in this country, with something to brag about.
l The Warriors are just one of 11 African national football teams to provide the English Premiership with players, who were good enough to score a hat-trick.
l With 54 members, making the Confederation of African Football, this means that only a fifth of the continental football governing boy’s member have been good enough to provide the English Premiership with hat-trick heroes.
l Nigeria lead the cast of those African countries, who have provided hat-trick heroes, with their players scoring three, or more goals, in a match, on eight occasions.
l Cote d’Ivoire, led by the great Didier Drogba, are in second place, with their stars scoring three, or more goals, in the English Premiership, on seven occasions.
l Senegal, who now have provided one of the legends of the Premiership in Sadio Mane, are in third place, with their stars having scored hat-tricks, on five occasions.
l With Zimbabwe’s stars, having scored English Premiership hat-tricks on three occasions, the country finds itself in fourth place, on the ladder of African countries which, for a small nation like ours, with a limited player base, represents a huge achievement.
l Record African champions, Egypt, who now have one of the world’s best players in Mohamed Salah, have only seen their stars score Premiership hat-tricks, on three occasions, the same number as the Zimbabwean players.
l Togo, whose star Emmanuel Adebayor was a success story in the English Premiership, have also seen their stars score hat-tricks, on three occasions.
l African champions Algeria, whose superstar Riyad Mahrez, is one of the best players in world football today, have only seen their stars score a hat-trick, in the Premiership, on two occasions.
l That’s the same number of occasions which players from Cameroon, one of the traditional giants of African football, and Ghana, have scored Premiership hat-tricks.
l The Democratic Republic of Congo’s only Premiership hat-trick was scored by Yannick Bolaise for Crystal Palace in a 4-1 win over Sunderland on April 11, 2015.
l That’s the same story with Gabon whose only Premiership hat-trick came from Arsenal captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, in the 4-1 destruction of Leeds United, on February 14, this year. The hat-tricks, scored in the Premiership, by Zimbabwean players, came from former Warriors skipper, Peter Ndlovu, in the colours of Coventry City, and Benjani Mwaruwari, in the colours of Portsmouth.
Ndlovu’s hat-trick was a landmark one, scored at Anfield, on March 14, 1995, as he grabbed all his team’s goals in a stunning 3-2 victory over Liverpool, in a league match.
To underline it was an historic achievement, it marked the first time that a visiting player had scored more than two goals, at the home of the Reds, since 1961.
“His first goal was a poacher’s effort, arriving perfectly at the back post and firing the ball past Liverpool keeper David James,” Coventry City recalled that moment.
“His second came from the penalty spot after midfielder Mike Marsh was brought down.
“His last goal was one that earned applause from even the home supporters. Picking the ball up from halfway inside Liverpool’s half, he forced his way through the Liverpool defence before unleashing an unstoppable strike into the net at the Kop end.”
He also became only the second African player, to score a hat-trick, in the Premiership, after Nigeria’s Efan Ekoku led the way, with his hat-trick, for Norwich, on September 25, 1993. Ghanaian legend Tony Yeboah, who scored two hat-tricks during his spell in the Premiership, soon followed his African colleagues with a hat-trick in Leeds’ 4-0 thrashing of Ipswich, on April 5, 1995.
Zimbabwe had to wait another 12 years, before celebrating a Premiership hat-trick, from one of their stars, when Benjani scored three goals, in Portsmouth’s 7-4 victory over Reading, on September 29, 2007.
The game set a benchmark for the most number of goals, scored in a single Premiership match, with 11 goals being scored by the two sides, on that afternoon.
The goals came during a rich vein of form for Benjani who, after scoring against Wigan, on October 20, that year, he found himself leading the race for the Golden Boot.
Given the way the Zimbabwean had struggled, for goals, when he arrived in England, in January 2006, this represented a stunning transformation, for the Pompey forward.
His next hat-trick came on January 19, 2008, as he scored all the Portsmouth goals, in the 3-1 win over Derby County.
This means Benjani, with his two three-goal hauls, has scored more Premiership hat-tricks, as an individual, than Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers, Bradford City, Crystal Palace, Ipswich, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United, Stoke City, Swindon Town, Watford, Wimbledon and Wolves. These teams have only had one player, scoring a hat-trick, during their spells in the English Premiership.
Sergio Aguero has scored 12 hat-tricks, the most by an individual, in the Premiership while Luis Suarez is the only player to have scored three hat-tricks against the same opponents (Norwich City).