The Sunday Mail
THERE are days when football is far from beautiful, days when Pele’s description of it as the world’s most beautiful game stops sounding hallow and takes a hollow tone.
These are the days when things go wrong spectacularly, the days when betting houses make a killing and the days when yesterday’s heroes instantly turn into today’s villains.
For the Zimbabwean national soccer team; Sunday July 14, 1991 was one of those days!
A ticket to the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations that had long looked in hand slipped through goalkeeper John Sibanda’s hands, breaking the hearts of the 55 000 fans that packed their way into the National Sports Stadium and the millions who followed the action on radio, on TV or on both.
These are the days when it was fashionable to absorb the images on TV while following Charles Mabika’s commentary on the then ZBC Radio 1.
On that day Moses Chunga was Zimbabwe’s most dangerous player, Peter Ndlovu scored, and Henry McKop scored too but limped off with an injury a few minutes before half time as Max Makanza came on.
Sibanda was a surprise choice to guard goal ahead of Peter “Chops” Fanwell but with a defence that had the likes of Ephraim Chawanda, Angirayi Chapo, Paul Gundani and Alexander Maseko the Zimbabwean goalkeeper looked safe.
Well that was until the moment when Sibanda gifted Francois Makita with a 40th minute equaliser that cancelled out McKop’s ninth minute opener.
A report in The Herald of the following day vividly describes how poor Sibanda was that day.
“The Zimbabwe goalkeeper was so nervous that each time the ball sailed into the box the spectators held their breath,” wrote the late Sam Marisa.
But when Peter Ndlovu scored with 17 minutes remaining the supporters who felt uneasy each time a long ball came Sibanda’s way could see Senegal, the 1992 Afcon venue.
However, Sibanda had one more howler and it came in the 92nd minute. The Zimbabwe goalkeeper fumbled a Didier Mbemba header across the line in one of local football most infamous mishaps.
The records show that the game ended 2-2 but the truth is that Congo came to Harare and did a number on a Zimbabwean team that also featured Willard Khumalo, Memory Mucherahohwa and Adam Ndlovu.
On 14 July 1991 Khama Billiat was barely a year old, Knowledge Musona had celebrated his first birthday three weeks earlier while Marvelous Nakamba was still in his father’s loins.
However, the weight of what happened at the NSS 21 years ago will be on the trio and the rest of the Class of 2019 when the Warriors face Congo next month with the ticket to the Africa Cup of Nations again at stake.
It is up to the current crop of national team players to exorcise the ghost of 1991 when Congo coach Noip Minga added salt to the locals’ wounds with a post-match interview that was brutally honest.
“We maintained the pressure all the time and the Zimbabweans made silly mistakes which cost them the game,” Minga was quoted as saying back then.
What the current Congo coach Valdo will say after the March 24 game at the NSS is stuck in the spiritual realm.
However, the current generation of Warriors has it within them to right the wrong of 1991 by doing the business and taking the country to Egypt. The so near yet so far Class of 1991 is yearning for redemption more than two decades later.