MAYBE, when you really think about it, our football is cursed, never destined to be a game that thrives, forever a national sporting discipline that is doomed, one that always breaks our hearts and inflicts considerable pain on our souls.
It took the Warriors more than two decades to qualify for the Nations Cup finals and, along the way, we had a number of near-misses, perfecting the art of collapsing at the very final hurdle when the Promised Land appeared in sight.
Ben Kouffie, the Ghanaian expatriate who came here to guide our Warriors, was so overwhelmed by it all he even remarked, when the time came for us to divorce each other after the failed ’92 Nations Cup campaign, that even if we hired a coach from the moon, we would never qualify for Africa’s biggest football festival.
Of course, that has since been proved wrong by both Sunday Chidzambwa and Charles Mhlauri, who took us to the Nations Cup in 2004 and 2006.
But how is it possible to forget that, when qualification for the ’92 Nations Cup finals seemed certain, with a home win against Congo (Brazzaville) all that was wanted, our coaches — Kouffie and Armando Ferreira — made the surprise decision of giving John Sibanda the nod ahead of Peter Fanwell for the key position of ‘keeper?
Willard Mashinkila-Khumalo, a Warriors’ legend, later said that he could see fear in Sibanda’s eyes when the announcement was made and the result was an error-filled performance by the ‘keeper, with the visitors taking full advantage, to get a 2-2 draw that elbowed us out of the equation.
The great Kalusha Bwalya had not scored a goal, at international level, for Zambia with his head until one afternoon, at the National Sports Stadium, when he somehow headed home past Bruce Grobbelaar for the late priceless equaliser that Chipolopolo wanted to stage their spectacular smash-and-grab raid to steal our ticket to the ’94 Nations Cup finals.
For goodness sake, that Zambian team, which somehow survived in Harare with the post coming to their rescue at a very crucial time, in a game where all we needed was just a win to qualify, even reached the final of the ’94 Nations Cup finals in Tunisia, losing 1-2 to eventual winners Nigeria.
When we appeared on course, during the ’96 Nations Cup qualifiers, an Ebola outbreak in the DRC changed all that when Lesotho, whom we had beaten home and away, refused to go there and their results were nullified while a makeshift team that we sent to Kinshasa, after the majority of our best players decided against flying there, suffered a five-goal hammering.
And when we started brightly, by beating Sudan 3-0 away in the ’98 Nations Cup qualifiers, to put ourselves in prime position, unrest broke out in that country and the Sudanese withdrew from the tournament, which meant that our result was nullified, and from there onwards, it was an uphill task for us.
Reinhard Fabisch built a powerful Dream Team he believed was good enough to qualify for the World Cup finals in ’94 but, in the decisive match where we needed just a victory for a place in the United States, the entire system worked against us, frustrated every move that we made in Yaounde and the German coach was so upset, at the end of a game we lost 1-3, he even threw US dollar notes at the referees in a graphic suggestion that they had been paid to ensure that we lose.
Of course, Fabisch was banned for a year for that, and that marked the beginning of the end of his successful adventure here and, now that he is no longer one of us, the mere mortals, he probably understands why everything is always against us.
Maybe, he now knows why those who made the fixtures ensured that the decisive final game, for the ticket for a place at the ’94 World Cup finals, had to be played in Yaounde and not in Harare, why that crucial final game, for us to win our group and make it into the three-team final qualifiers, had to be played in Cairo and not Harare.
He now probably understands why the decisive second leg of the ’98 Champions League final had to be played in Abidjan and not Harare and why it didn’t matter to Issa Hayatou, the CAF president, and his entourage, that Dynamos’ skipper, Memory Mucherahowa was head-butted, during warm-up, and ferried to hospital, while his troops remained without a leader to complete the fight.
Given that three years earlier, in 1995, ASEC Mimosas had reached the Champions League final and hosted the decisive second leg in Abidjan, didn’t it then make sense for the continent’s football leadership that, for the sake of transparency, this time they should play that game away from their home?
Maybe, now Fabisch understands why our national game doesn’t always attract the best people to lead it, why it has become fashionable that we can’t pay our national team coaches even against the background that one of them took his case to FIFA and that led to our expulsion from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Until late last night, the Warriors were still holed up in Harare, unsure whether they would fly to Comoros for the second leg of a CHAN qualifier while, a day earlier, their coach, without pay from his employers for 10 months, decided enough was enough and left their camp and went home.
Now, we are being told, even those boys who endured that horror road trip to Malawi ahead of the 2017 Nations Cup qualifier, arriving in Blantyre just hours before the match, but somehow made the whole nation proud with a grand victory over their hosts, were not paid as promised.
And yesterday Pasuwa said he would not be surprised if some of them decide that they have been abused so much it was not worth it to respond to the next call to come for national duty, in our key qualifier against Guinea, and a very promising campaign to return to the Nations Cup finals, is destroyed just like that.
EVEN, FOR A THRILLER, LIKE THE ONE ON SUNDAY, IT’S CONTROVERSY THAT RULES
On Sunday, the domestic Premiership served us a thriller, a game that we had not seen for a very long time, as giants Dynamos and Highlanders went toe-to-tie in a bruising battle that produced five goals and a sixth one, of pure quality, that has become the source of considerable debate all week.
Somehow, because of that curse which appears to stalk our national game, it had to happen that, the best game between the two giants would not be remembered for the purity of the exchange of the blows that we witnessed, in a contest of titanic proportions that had to be seen to be enjoyed, but for a controversial refereeing call with just about 10 minutes left.
Because, that’s the way our game is, and has always been, noone this week talked about the beauty of Ronald Chitiyo’s equaliser, bringing the ball down with his chest and, without the benefit of a lot of back-lift, volleying it through a tight angle for the Dynamos equaliser.
When was the last time someone, in these major games, produced a goal of such quality, under such pressure, under such close attention, and while the guys at SuperSport, in one of their magazine shows for African football, ranked it as one of the best five goals scored on the continent last weekend, no one here was talking about it.
Or the quality of that DeMbare team to survive that Bosso onslaught, in a second half they played second fiddle, and then just find the right moment to strike.
Instead, all the headlines, as is usually the case in our game, were on the officials, and not the players, and the back, front and letters pages were all full of venom, negativity, hurt, disappointment, as if we had not been privileged witnesses to that moment of magic by a little genius whose small shoulders are carrying the hopes of a giant club.
Knox Mtizwa, with a stylish hairstyle to match the occasion, and his performance, turned on a show, leading the Bosso frontline, probably not seen since Zenzo Moyo was the at his bullying best, playing in a similar role, for the Bulawayo giants, in a game against Dynamos.
The coolness, with which he took that penalty, to give Highlanders the lead, took some of us down memory lane to that afternoon when Bosso arrived at Rufaro and Charles Chilufya converted a decisive spot-kick, without showing any nerves, to give them a victory which, ultimately, was key in leading them to a league championship triumph.
That he was facing the Warriors’ number one ‘keeper, the teenage goalminder whose reputation rose a number of notches high with his incredible performance in Malawi, the boy who turned into a man in those 90 minutes of in Blantyre when he defied whatever the Flames threw at him, didn’t even worry Knox.
And, when the moment came, he simply stroked the penalty home, sending Tatenda Mukuruva the wrong way, the same goal that Chilufya breached that day.
Just after the break, there he was again, the impressive Knox, escaping the Dynamos defence and finding himself free in that box to head the ball home for the equaliser and bring his team back into the game.
But no one talked about Knox this week even though if we were to search the archives, we might struggle to find the last time that a Bosso forward came to Rufaro and terrorised the DeMbare defence in such a way and then scored two goals to cap a brilliant show.
Sadly, Knox’s super show was lost in the wreckage of the controversy that dominated the post-match reports and discussions as all the focus turned on an assistant referee who made a decisive and wrong call on the day.
Yes, we all need our referees to get it right all of the time, if not most of the time, and Bosso are right to feel that, when they look at that disallowed goal, they were denied a goal that should have, at least, earned them a point which their performance on the day thoroughly deserved.
Back in the days when we had good referees, one of them, Brighton Mudzamiri, was even invited by FIFA to officiate at the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and Korea while Felix Tangawarima went to the 2000 Olympics.
But very few remember that we had a referee who went to officiate at the World Cup finals but a lot of football fans know that we have never qualified for the World Cup finals.
And, after the performance of the two giants on Sunday, which provided hope to us that we have some players who can raise the game to a certain high level, and probably take us somewhere one day, was it fair that we bury their fine exploits in the sand and ignore them completely as if they did nothing at all?
If our quest as a nation is to ensure that we play at every Nations Cup finals and we also dream of one day qualifying for the World Cup finals, is it fair that — on the occasion that the very players who can probably deliver us there turn on the magic — we collectively ignore their exploits as if nothing happened on that pitch on Sunday?
The real football world hasn’t forgotten Diego Maradona’s second super goal against England at the 1986 World Cup, and celebrate it as probably the finest scored at that level of the game, and they hail that Argentina team as champions even though Diego scored the first goal with his hand.
Maybe, that’s what our national game is, cursed forever.
EVEN COLLIN MATIZA WAS CHARMED BY THE QUALITY OF SUNDAY’S GAME
My colleague, Collin Matiza, who celebrated a Golden Jubilee this week, hasn’t been to a domestic Premiership game for more than a decade now because he always argues that the real football followed the likes of Joel Shambo, who was his close friend, into their graves.
Now, when you get someone like King Kodza telling you that he saw something different, something exciting, something vibrant, as he watched the live transmission of the Battle of Zimbabwe on SuperSport, then you know that, indeed, the quality was good.
That Bosso performance, in the second half, was as good as I have seen a visiting team produce at Rufaro in a very, very long time and our columnist, Bothwell Mahlengwe, said he started respecting Bongani Mafu, the Highlanders coach, for having the tactical and technical acumen that should be appreciated.
Mahlengwe said he could tell, as he watched Bosso spread the ball around, that Mafu was a student of a UEFA coaching school and believes that while he might struggle to produce results, in the interim, he could be the best thing that happened to Highlanders, in the long-term, since Methembe Ndlovu.
Yes, his namesake, Bongani Gadzikwa, the assistant referee got his huge call wrong and Bosso have every right to mourn about a loss they probably didn’t deserve, but there was more to this super clash, which needs to be appreciated, than just the controversy that has stalked it since the game ended.
But, then, this is Zimbabwe football, maybe that’s our curse.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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