Wayne Rooney marked his second debut for Everton with a stunning goal after receiving a raucous welcome from the 35,000 crowd at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Rooney had the first touch of the game between Everton and Kenyan Premier League champions Gor Mahia and scored after 35 minutes, lifting a clever effort over the home goalkeeper from 25 yards.
The goal was even cheered by fans of the opposing team, with one dressed in a Manchester United shirt forcing the game to be stopped after invading the pitch to give Rooney a hug. The former England captain responded by returning the favour before the fan was bundled off the pitch.
Everton ultimately won the match 2-1, with Kieran Dowell scoring a later winner after Jacques Tuyisenge levelled for the hosts.
Many fans – some of whom travelled from the neighbouring East African nations of Kenya and Uganda – chanted “Rooney, Rooney” as the players left the stadium at the end of their two-day stint in Tanzania.
Rooney was replaced at half-time and several Gor Mahia players stopped him to pose for photographs after the final whistle before he was escorted away.
Everton winger Aaron Lennon also made his first appearance since February 11 after receiving treatment for a stress-related illness.
Gor Mahia earned the right to play Everton after winning the regional SportPesa Super Cup, which pitted teams from Tanzania against those from Kenya.
Kenyan betting firm SportPesa sponsors both Kenya’s and Tanzania’s top-flight leagues and were confirmed as Everton’s new shirt sponsor in May.
Everton have been given royal treatment since they arrived in the East African state.
The wild chants for Rooney, along with stomping performances by Maasai cultural dancers, created a spectacle to behold.
Everton’s Democratic Republic of Congo winger Yannick Bolasie rivalled Rooney, England’s former captain, in the popularity stakes with a band of Congolese fans welcoming him to Tanzania. They were draped in T-shirts emblazoned with his face.
However, Rooney, who has rejoined Everton after 13 years at Manchester United, was the fans’ favourite.
Even Tanzania’s Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan attested to this.
“Wayne Rooney made me support Manchester United and now I don’t know what to do because he has gone back to Everton,” she said.
Rooney replied: “Being here, it has been a new experience for me and I hope the vice-president will now be able to support Everton.”
Offering their support
On Wednesday, Everton’s Mo Besic, Tom Davies and newly-signed Michael Keane joined Albino United in a training session in the coastal city of Dar es Salaam, soon after they landed.
The visit was aimed at helping to break the stigma against people with albinism who risk being killed in Tanzania.
“From spending time with them today, I have learnt that the players go through some tough times. It’s not easy for them over here,” said Keane, who made his debut in the second half.
“It’s good that they can enjoy football and look forward to playing together. You can see their coach is really good with them.”
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