26 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Blue Immortals

IN the season they suffered their worst humiliation on the continent, Dynamos refused to drown in that pool of shame and spectacularly bounced back to scale the heights of greatness at home by scripting a remarkable success story.

It needed something special to heal the bleeding wounds of the battering that DeMbare suffered on that Black Saturday on April 28 at the Rades Stadium in Tunis when they leaked half-a-dozen goals in a Champions League non-contest.

And exactly 30 Saturdays after that night of horror, the Glamour Boys were singing their redemption song at Rufaro after completing back-to-back League and Cup success stories, for the first time in 26 years, to evoke memories of a golden past.

By winning the Mbada Diamonds Cup final on Saturday, with a 2-0 victory over Monomotapa that wasn't a true reflection of their dominance, and the glut of clear chances they created on a day their opponents were swallowed by stage fright, DeMbare touched the heavens.

As they tossed their triumphant coach, Callisto Pasuwa into the air to celebrate success in the Mbada Diamonds Cup on Saturday, it's unlikely that the DeMbare players knew the magnitude of their grand achievement.

It's also unlikely that Pasuwa, who was parachuted from obscurity, with a fledgling coaching career that had experienced more setbacks than positives to provide the stability factor to a DeMbare boat that had run into stormy waters last year, knew the extent of his grand achievement.

It's certainly unlikely, too, that the thousands of DeMbare fans, who packed Rufaro to give a befitting farewell to their heroes in a season they had bounced back from the nightmare of Tunis to achieve greatness at home, knew the magnitude of what they had just achieved.

Facts, though, show an incredible success story because:

DeMbare became the first team, in the era of the modern Premiership stretching a period of 19 years, to win back-to-back League and Cup doubles.

They matched the Dynamos Class of '85/'86 which, until the Glamour Boys' deserved triumph on Saturday, had stood alone in the exclusive club reserved for teams that achieved such a feat since Independence.

Incredibly, since the league championship of this country officially started in 1962, only one team, Dynamos, has won back-to-back League and Cup doubles and the DeMbare Class of 2012 only becomes the second team, in exactly 50 years, to do that.

Pasuwa became only the second coach, after his mentor Sunday Chidzambwa, to win back-to-back League and Cup titles in the half-a-century that the domestic top-flight championship has been in existence.

In a year where the number 19 has been a common denominator in success stories in football, DeMbare won their 19th league title in the 19th season of the top-flight championship in the era of the modern Premiership.

Highlanders finished with the highest points tally in the championship race this year, just as was the case when they won the inaugural Premiership title 19 years ago, but the only difference was that this season their harvest was matched by Dynamos who triumphed on the strength of a superior goal difference.

Zambia were crowned African champions, for the first time, after they won the 2012 Nations Cup in Libreville, exactly 19 years after that plane crash off the coast of Gabon, wiped out a generation of their finest footballers.

Fittingly, Pasuwa introduced a Zambian midfielder, in the dying moments of his team's victory over Monomotapa on Saturday, and while Arthur Kaseloki was denied a debut goal by a wicked deflection that threw his rebound off course, he got his medal to show his family when he returns home this holiday.

Murape Murape and Desmond Maringwa provided the link with a past, in which Dynamos came within 90 minutes of being crowned champions of Africa, and Partson Jaure, Farai Mupasiri, Denver Mukamba and Tichaona Mabvura provided the hope for a future in which this club's legacy, as a championship-winning team, appears safe.

The massive crowd that came to Rufaro on Saturday, which was predominantly DeMbare, also provided the assurance that this club's appeal is not fading anytime soon and how the Glamour Boys' leaders can convert such outpouring of support, into projects that bring commercial success, remains one of their biggest challenges.

It's not easy to play against an underdog like Monomotapa, which has nothing to lose, on the grand stage and still produce a level of football that appeals to the eye and there were times, in the second half on Saturday, when DeMbare cranked up the volume.

Having won the midfield battle from the word go, with Pasuwa's masterstroke of employing a shadow for Ronald "Rooney" Chitiyo, in the form of hardworking skipper Tawanda Muparati, working wonders and nullifying Monoz' creativity, Dynamos won the tactical battles and all they needed was to keep cool heads.

Murape wasn't providing the width they needed down the right flank, in the early parts of that first half, but he was involved in the move that opened the way for Mukamba to power a beauty of a volley that was somehow pushed away for a corner by impressive 'keeper Artwell Mukandi. With David Kutyauripo turning back the hands of time, with a vintage performance that bellied his advanced years, it meant Murape's struggles down that right wasn't fatal to DeMbare's attacking adventures.

And with Mukamba having the licence to swing across the midfield, thanks to the dominance that unsung hero, Thomas Magorimbo was having in protecting the defensive shield, Monomotapa didn't know how to counter such threats and they kept losing their shape as they struggled to stem the tide.

It became a matter of time, as to when DeMbare would find the opener and Rodreck Mutuma fluffed a free header, and Monoz somehow survived to reach the break on equal terms.

That this wasn't going to last was evident and Pasuwa would have gambled his career, and his life, on Mutuma scoring because that's what he does best on such grand occasions, having scored the winner against Motor Action in the Mbada Diamonds Cup final last year, the first goal in the decisive tie against Kiglon they needed to win to be champions and the priceless goal at Ascot against Hardbody.

And, right on cue, Mutuma scored, not once but twice, getting into the right positions all the time, to win the game for a team that worked harder and deserved it more than their opponents.

Mukamba should have given the scoreline the true picture of his team's dominance when through on goal but fluffed his lines.

Mutuma was voted man-of-the-match, and football tends to do that for people who score match-winning goals, but he will be the first to concede that there were a number of others who put in more into the shift, especially Kutyauripo and Magorimbo.

It's easy to forget that DeMbare won the Mbada Diamonds Cup without conceding a goal in four matches, stretching over 360 minutes, after a goalless draw against Quelaton that was decided by a penalty shootout lottery, a 3-0 hammering of Gunners and CAPS United in the quarter and semi-finals and a 2-0 win over Monoz.

When you look at all that, you can see the philosophy that Pasuwa is trying to use, the same old one that Chidzambwa used with a lot of success in the past, where DeMbare built everything on a foundation of a firm defence.

It's not easy to plan, in a volatile market where there are no guarantees that the best players will still be around come next season, but this is a Dynamos establishment that has perfected the art of surviving such setbacks and they won the League and Cup double this year after losing their two best players - Washington Arubi and Takesure Chinyama.

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