WHITHER WARRIORS? . . . strategies not apologies needed for football

17 Oct, 2021 - 00:10 0 Views
WHITHER WARRIORS? . . . strategies not apologies needed for football

The Sunday Mail

Petros Kausiyo and Langton Nyakwenda

IT has been a calamitous World Cup qualifying campaign whose pain is being felt across the country and beyond.

From fans in Mhondoro to as far as pundits in Botswana, Belgium and Germany, including former players, are all feeling the agony of the manner in which their beloved Warriors capitulated in their bid to secure a maiden place at the World Cup.

Not that it was given that the country’s flagship team, which has never been to the World Cup, would easily qualify, but it was bowing out of the race without much of a fight that has touched off fierce debate.

One win in 16 matches, no victory at home in two years and only just one goal in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers makes up the Warriors’ sad tale thus far.

Zimbabwe’s fate in the qualifiers was sealed when the Warriors suffered back-to-back defeats to Ghana, whose major highlight was the lifeless performance at home against the Black Stars, which ended in a 1-0 defeat at the National Sports Stadium.

They anchor Group G with a single point from four matches and are a massive nine points behind leaders South Africa, whose rebuilding squad has been an example of what planning can produce.


Just like in July 2019 when the so-called Warriors’ golden generation exited the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt without a win, ZIFA has since issued an apology to the nation.

In a statement that was released by spokesperson Xolisani Gwesela then, ZIFA indicated that it had turned its attention to building strong foundations for future success.

“As the team heads back home (from Cairo), ZIFA will take time to introspect and lay a foundation for a better football future in order to guarantee better performances at such high-profile tournaments,’’ reads a statement released after the Warrior’s exit.

Now, as then, ZIFA has also issued yet another apology following Tuesday’s disaster at the National Sports Stadium.

“The Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) sincerely apologises to all football stakeholders for the senior national team’s back-to-back losses to Ghana and the eventual elimination from the FIFA World Cup 2022TM qualifiers.

“We fully understand the disappointment that comes with every unfavourable result from the national teams because we know just how much Zimbabweans love and support their team,” reads the latest statement.

“ZIFA will take lessons from the two matches and without compromising performance on the remaining World Cup matches, shift attention to the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations finals.”

It also said the two remaining World Cup qualifiers will now be used to prepare for the AFCON finals.

The local soccer governing body also sought to explain away the ignominy of the embarrassing situation that preceded Tuesday’s match, where Ghana, which had hosted the Warriors three days earlier, were the first to arrive in Harare.

“Further, ZIFA has received numerous inquiries from stakeholders on why Ghana arrived in Zimbabwe earlier than our own Warriors after the first leg.

“Their fear was that ZIFA had probably not prepared adequately for the two matches. While Ghana flew directly from Ghana to Harare on a government-funded chartered flight, our Warriors used a commercial flight secured using the association’s resources.”

But youth football coach Farai Dhliwayo, like most people, is not buying it.

He challenged the association to make public their strategic plan.

“If ZIFA are saying we are now shifting to AFCON just because we qualified for Cameroon next year, then we have not learnt from this World Cup failure,” said Dhliwayo.

“Where exactly is the paradigm shift? The fact that we have had a disastrous World Cup campaign literally means we are not ready for AFCON either. The two remaining World Cup qualifiers cannot remedy the disaster that Zimbabwe football is at the moment.”

The Legends Academy coach also spoke of the need to allocate FIFA Forward funds for the purpose they are intended.

“The reason FIFA provide the FIFA Forward grants to ZIFA is for football development, because they know that the only way to improve football in any nation is by investing in junior development.

“The reason I have been campaigning for junior development is to ensure that we as a nation have better players in the future, which will provide a national team with more selection options and a greater chance of success in future qualifications.”

Others countries, he added, have young players who have consistently been in junior national teams from Under-17, Under-20, Under-23, while Zimbabwe is “plucking players without passports who have never left Harare or alternatively players from overseas who have never visited Zimbabwe”.

A player, he said, needs to be developed within a “team ethos” to improve his tactical and cultural understanding.


The Warriors’ worrying statistics have also been a source of anguish amongst the local football fraternity.

Solomon Kagoro, a former youth football coach who is now a councillor in Ward 9 in Chivero, Mhondoro, has no kind words for the ZIFA leadership.

“What’s worse is that people at ZIFA don’t seem to care about this disaster. They seem to only care about the finances and tend to neglect their duties as the custodians of the national team,” said Kagoro, a former Zimbabwe Soccer Coaches Association official.

“We might be based here in the rural areas but I can tell you people here love their Warriors and they are worried about the falling standards.”

Kagoro poured his heart out when The Sunday Mail Sport visited Mhondoro, where female football agent Pat Jefferson Ndaveni launched a programme called “Changing lives through sport” on Thursday.

Some of the Warriors followers believe the national team needs new blood, arguing that players like Onismor Bhasera (35), Thabani Kamusoko (33), Knowledge Musona (31), Bruce Kangwa (33) and Khama Billiat (31) are in the twilight of their careers.

Warriors coach Norman Mapeza, who is under no illusion of the enormity of the task that lies ahead, says he will open the door for more local players as he tries to build a competitive squad for AFCON in Cameroon in January.

“We saw the players that played in the two legs against Ghana and we now have a basis. I now know who to pick.

“If there are any local players doing well in the local league, why not include them in the squad? Let’s include them, there is nothing we can do at the moment.

“We have to include them and see how they perform in national colours.

“We are in a difficult situation at the moment but we will have to try our best,” Mapeza said.

So dire is the Warriors’ situation that they last won a match at home on September 22, 2019 when they beat Lesotho 3-1 in an African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifier.

Zimbabwe’s last win in the World Cup group qualifiers was back in June 2008 when they beat Namibia 2-0 at Rufaro Stadium via Gilbert Mushangazhike’s brace.

New Approach

Ephraim Chawanda, who captained Zimbabwe during the famed Dream Team era – a time when winning at home was almost guaranteed – wants  the country to take a new approach.

“Honestly, I feel we need a new approach. We have been in this position too many times and we still falter.

“Some people are failing in their jobs, we are failing our football and our football is failing our nation,” he told The Sunday Mail Sport from his base in Botswana.

“Let me say that we are worried that the tree is all bright flowers that fade away with time whilst we expect to harvest plenty of fruits.

“I think it’s time we plant a new tree with proper nourishment to the roots. Then, we can expect a bumper harvest,” Chawanda said.

Former Zimbabwe and CAPS United left wing-back Cephas Chimedza believes some pride can be salvaged if ZIFA concentrate on the AFCON finals.

“They (ZIFA) should now make sure that everything is in place and that we are ready both on and off the field,” Belgium-based Chimedza said.

“The other problem is that we have made qualifying for the AFCON our priority, so for us, as long as we are qualifying then it’s ok. We need to raise the bar.”

Chimedza, however, feels fresh players should be fused in based on merit.

The Warriors’ average age is worrying.

Jordan Zemura (21) was the only Under-23 player in the starting line-up against Ghana.

This has heightened calls for Mapeza to start introducing youthful players as part of a long-term project to revamp the Warriors.

But with no strategic plan from ZIFA, Mapeza might not find many young players for the senior side.

ZIFA have been resisting calls to register the Under-17 and Under-20 sides for the upcoming COSAFA tournament, preferring to put all their eggs into the World Cup campaign.

This is despite the fact that Government would meet a huge chunk of the funding, as the 2021 COSAFA junior tournaments are running under the auspices of the Africa Union Sports Region Five Games in Lesotho in December. Dhliwayo and Chimedza said Mapeza will be forced to rely on the old guard as long as no youthful players who are playing first-team club football – and not for academy or developmental squads – emerge.

“As long as there are no other players performing better than Musona, Billiat and the like, then these so-called old guys deserve to be called-up,” said Chimedza.

Former Warriors coach Wieslaw Grabowski wants ZIFA to give Mapeza enough room and support to rebuild the squad.

“There should be less pressure on the coach. He needs his space to do what he knows best. Give him the leeway to select players he thinks can do the job, then judge him afterwards,” he said.


Share This: