The Herald (Harare)

28 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Where Did We Fall Short in Football?

column

The Zambian fans will pass through Harare, those who choose to drive, on a road trip that will take them to Chivhu, Masvingo and Beitbridge, on their way to the 2013 Nations Cup finals in South Africa, and in bars and supermarkets across this country, where they might choose to do a stop-over, they will ask us what did we do in our national game this year

IN a few days time the world will embrace a New Year and the explosion of the 2013 Nations Cup finals, just across the Limpopo, will once again provide a painful reminder of where we are coming horribly short as a football nation.

That Angola, the country that somehow found a way to beat us at the last hurdle when their fate appeared to have been sealed in Harare, were the first to arrive in South Africa for the showcase, rubbed coarse salt into our gashing emotional wounds.

That thousands of Zambians cancelled their Christmas holidays to give Chipolopolo a thunderous send-off, which illuminated a sleepy Boxing Day in Lusaka, as their football heroes left for South Africa, provided us with powerful sights and sounds of what happens when you play your cards right in this game.

That the organisers of the 2013 Nations Cup finals are unhappy with our absence at the show, given the massive box office of the Warriors in South Africa where a huge fan base would guarantee sold-out seats for our games, is as normal as it is heartbreaking.

We let down a lot of people by not qualifying for the 2013 Nations Cup finals, we conspired to rob the tournament of some of its finest sights and greatest sounds, we robbed the tourney of massive gate receipts and we took away the X-Factor that this football festival needed.

Ours would have been the greatest story of the tournament -- the national team whose name has been dragged through all the mud in the past two years, in which it has been the byline for controversy, now sharing a place, at the top dining table, with the heavyweights of African football.

For 45 minutes at Rufaro, in that game against Angola, it all looked on course.

By the time Archie Gutu headed home our third goal, we were flying, the Warriors were rampant, the Negras Palancas looked down and out and the stage was being set for our return to the big time -- exactly seven years after our last dance in Egypt.

Somebody said, when the teams went for the break, that this was too good to be true.

And how right he was!

The whistle to signal the end of the first 45 minutes at Rufaro also signaled the end of the part we played in that contest -- it had four quarters, two at Rufaro and two in Luanda, and sadly we played in just one quarter and forgot about the rest.

When the Angolans arrived in South Africa this week, every step and every move they made represented what could have been for us.

And, sadly, it's just the beginning of this painful reminder that will play itself out throughout the tournament.

Every time you see Lama in goals for Angola, at the 2013 Nations Cup finals, think about Kapini or Ariel Sibanda because this should have been their show.

Every time you will see Pirolito, running down the defensive or offensive flanks for the Palancas Negras, think about Kaseke, because this should have been his show.

Every time you will see Lunguinha, think about Bhasera, Dani, think about Nyadombo, Miguel, think about Esrom, Zuela, think about Knowledge, Dede, think about Tinashe, Kivuvu, think about Archie Gutu, Djalma, think about Khama, Manucho, think about Malajila and Mateus, think about Vusa.

For every Angolan fan you will see in full voice at the stadium in South Africa, think about Romario, Chris Musekiwa, our own cheerleaders who would have painted the Nations Cup finals in our green and gold colours and given the tournament an unforgettable soundtrack.

For every Angolan journalist you will see conducting pitch-side interviews at the Nations Cup finals, spare a thought for our own guys -- Eddie Chikamhi, Grace Chingoma, Henry Mhara, Tawanda Tafirenyika, Farai Machamire, Nigel Matongorere, Godknows Matarutse -- who could have been down there and right in the mix.

Don't cry for me because I have been there and done that.

I was there, 14 years ago, long before we knew how it felt to qualify and play at the Nations Cup finals and, two years ago, I had the privilege of covering the Fifa World Cup on my home continent and, among a glut of grand assignments, interviewing the great Diego Maradona.

It's the emerging folks, the guys in the trenches, who needed the experience of covering the 2013 Nations Cup finals more than I did, and it's those guys, the future of our football writing community, who are being deprived of a priceless learning curve in the field.

For every Angolan commentator you will see in full flow at the Nations Cup finals, spare a thought for our guys, especially the StarFM contingent led by Steve Vickers, who have really turned on the show by bringing a different and captivating dimension to football coverage on the radio.

Or even my dear friend Alois "Gazza" Bunjira, who could have returned to the country that provided a home for him as a professional footballer for more than a decade, now working in his new role as a trusted football critic, on ZiFM stereo, as he makes the first steps of what promises to be a big and successful media career.

Just about every night I see the former South African footballers being used as panelists by SuperSport and I see some Nigerians, Kenyans, Congolese, Zambians and Ivorians, and I always wonder when will one of our guys get that breakthrough?

It's certainly not because they are incompetent because, listening to some of the contributions, you feel our guys could do better and it's an area I believe Bunjira, especially with all the experience he has with South African football and its characters, will do very well.

But he can't do it by just covering the domestic Premiership race, and its knockout tournaments, but needs to go that extra mile, in his educational drive in this new field, by covering competitions like the Nations Cup finals.

The massive opportunity we messed up

For every Angolan company you will using the Palancas Negras to advertise its products, at the 2013 Nations Cup finals, spare a thought for our sponsors who could have been given a huge offshore platform, to showcase their profiles during this football festival.

Mbada Diamonds, the country's biggest football sponsor this year, would have loved this grand opportunity, showing the world what its diamonds are doing to benefit the people of Zimbabwe, and in the Warriors, and this coming Nations Cup, they had the ideal vehicle and platform.

So much has been said about Zimbabwe's diamonds and those who campaign against this industry have used every dirty word possible to describe these gems and companies like Mbada Diamonds, have been sucked into the conspiracy theories and slapped with sanctions.

But through its massive investment in the national game, in a year in which it bankrolled the country's premier knockout tournament and poured a fortune into the Warriors, Mbada Diamonds demonstrated that it was a good corporate citizen and Mzansi 2003 would have provided it with a grand platform to showcase its true identity.

How many companies, in the world today, will fork out about US$400 000, in just under two weeks, to answer a national call and pour all of it into a football project, just trying to help the national team leap one final hurdle, the way Mbada Diamonds did in the Mzansi '90 initiative?

Take a time to seriously think about it and you will realise that these guys deserve more, in terms of the mileage they get from football, and the 2013 Nations Cup finals in South Africa would have been a perfect platform.

Companies like Savanna Tobacco, who have poured a lot into supporting football fan clubs in the country, and who have suffered a lot through industrial sabotage in South Africa, getting a platform in Mzansi to show their enemies, through football, that they are a firm fully backed by its people.

Companies like BancABC, whose money has done wonders in bringing stability and professionalism at the country's biggest football clubs -- Dynamos and Highlanders -- who are a bank with an emerging profile in the region and would have found an ideal platform to showcase themselves, through football, in South Africa.

When you think about all those missed opportunities, all of them blown by the second goal that Manucho scored in Luanda, the away goal that we conceded at home, our failure to compete beyond the first half of the tie at Rufaro and our failure to respond in Angola, you get a clear picture of where we are losing it as a football nation.

Therein lies the difference between us, and the Zambians, and where our neighbours were packing the streets of Lusaka on Boxing Day to give Chipolopolo a thunderous send-off to South Africa, we were scattered around our rural areas, counting the costs of our failure.

The Zambian fans will pass through Harare, those who choose to drive, on a road trip that will take them to Chivhu, Masvingo and Beitbridge, on their way to South Africa, and in bars and supermarkets across this country, where they might choose to do a stop-over, they will ask us what we did in our national game this year.

We will say we banned players, officials, journalists, you name it, we talked endlessly about Asiagate, our Zifa coffers slipped US$4 million into the red, we had borrowed in excess of US$1 million, by year-end, from Zifa president Cuthbert Dube to service a crippled association and Fifa were warning us to tighten our belts, financially, or face punitive measures.

They will tell us they won the Nations Cup finals, in the same Gabonese city where the doomed aircraft, which destroyed a generation of their finest footballers, took off for the last time in its ill-fated mission before crashing, moments later, into the Atlantic Ocean.

They will tell us Christopher Katongo, their Captain Fantastic, won the BBC African Footballer of the Year for 2012, after his heroics in leading the Copper Bullets to greatness in Libreville, and only the stupidity of the leaders of the Confused African Football, otherwise known as Caf, denied him the organisation's award, which went to Kolo Toure, and shamelessly didn't even give him a place in the Top Three.

They will tell us they are confident they will defend their Nations Cup crown in South Africa, that's how bullish these guys have become these days.

And they expect Emmanuel Mayuka, who has struggled to make a mark at Southampton the way Musona is struggling to impose himself in Germany, Katongo, who plays in China where Benjani would have been today if he had chosen that route and Mbesuma, who plays for Orlando Pirates alongside Chinyama, to make a big impression.

Feel them, they will be here.

Sadly, all we can do is think about what could have been, the golden chance we blew away, the turbulence that continues to shake our football family, the five steps backwards that we took in 2012, the reality that once again we are out of the top 100 on the world rankings.

A ballooning debt that has become a mountain, which could crush the little that remains of what used to be Zifa House, the long list of creditors demanding their dues from our association, all about the darkness, nothing about the light.

Those are the stories we will tell the Zambians, as they cross our borders at Beitbridge and slip into South Africa, as a parting shot.

2013 and the landmarks it brings

The year 2013 will start with a painful reminder, when the Nations Cup finals explode, of what we will be missing, but it will not be all doom and gloom for the national sporting discipline.

There will be landmarks everywhere.

Dynamos will turn 50 next year and the Glamour Boys' fans will be hoping their great team makes a bigger impression, on the continent in the year of their Golden Jubilee, than what we have seen, in the past two years, in which the Harare giants have been average if not horrible.

CAPS United will turn 40 next year and the Green Machine fans will be praying that the old saying, that life begins at 40, will hold true for their beloved Green Machine, which has flirted between mediocrity and vulnerability this year, and will be firing from all cylinders.

The domestic Premiership will turn 20 next year, after the modern version of the top-flight league was launched in '93, and its leaders will take stock on a vibrant league loaded with natural talent, among its footballers, but which continues to be weighed down by poor funding.

It would be 20 years since Bosso won the maiden edition of the modern version of the Premiership and fans of the country's second biggest club, which enjoyed a renaissance this season in which they competed with both spirit and character and were a credit to the grand profile of their club, will be hoping for more next year.

DeMbare need to make a big impression in the Champions League next year but it's now turning into Mission Impossible, especially in an era where they keep losing their best players to South Africa and the team that wins the league is chopped and changed every year.

The Glamour Boys' team that reached the final of the Champions League in '98 was a project that was five years in the making and, while the team that played that season was not the finest of their sides, the spirit within the players was strong and they knew each other very well.

After all, it was the same key players, like Mucherahowa, who had provided the inspiration behind the team's success story in winning the league in '94 and '95, came second in '96 to a very good CAPS United side, and won the championship again in '97.

They were there, as the core of the team, when they marched on their glorious adventure to the final of the Champions League in '98 and chances are that the decisive game, the second leg of the final in Abidjan, would have gone their way if Memory had played in that tie instead of having to spend 90 minutes being treated in an Ivorian hospital.

It's easy to forget that, in the chaotic build-up to their Champions League campaign in '98, Dynamos were hit by a player rebellion and five key players, including Claudius Zviripayi and Masimba Dinyero, were thrown out of the team.

But such was the strength of a squad, which had bonded together for some time, they were able to clear this turbulence and players like Dinyero later apologised, and were absorbed back into the team, to play cameo roles in the march to the Champions League final.

Even after they had lost their coach, Sunday Chidzambwa, after a 0-2 home defeat to Esperance in the group stages the following year, Dynamos were still able to compete, because the backbone of the playing staff was still intact, and they finished third in their group and massacred St Louisenne of Reunion 7-1 in their final group tie under David George.

The DeMbare team that reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2008 was also a project that had been in the making for, at least, three years and when they won their first league title, in 10 years in 2007, they didn't lose their best players to South African clubs.

Murape Murape was crowned the Soccer Star of the Year but Edward Sadomba or Justice Majabvi would have been worthy recipients of the grand honour that season.

They were still in the trenches, the following year, when Dynamos embarked on their Champions League campaign and reached the last four.

Today, it's a different story and as much as people would like Pasuwa to create a competitive team good enough to make the group stages of the Champions League, we have to be realistic and when you lose three of your best players, in just one year, it all adds up to paint a gloomy picture.

Washington Arubi, Soccer Star of the Year last season, has gone to South Africa where he has been receiving rave reviews at Pretoria University with one of the respected football websites there declaring that he was the best player, among those who came into Super Diski, this year.

Takesure Chinyama, who provided goals for the Glamour Boys, including three in his first two Champions League matches, did not last even six months and is now at Orlando Pirates.

Denver Mukamba, the shining prince who was the heartbeat of the Glamour Boys this season and won the Soccer Star of the Year, is off to Bidvest Wits while SuperSport United have renewed interest in Partson Jaure, the promising defender, on whose defensive brilliance DeMbare built their championship-winning fortress.

It's a landmark year for DeMbare and they have to do something special on the continent although I don't know how that will be possible, especially with the hurdle of Al Ahly, who seemingly never sell their best players, lying in wait in the second round.

Maybe, if CAPS United wake up from their slumber and pile the pressure on their rivals, with a number of eye-catching performances and results in the opening weeks of the campaign, in the year that the Green Machine turn 40, it will push DeMbare to take their game to another level.

DeMbare have only won the championship twice, in their anniversary seasons, in '63 when the club was formed and in '83 when they were on a roll of four-straight league titles.

They didn't win in their 10th year, in '73, with the championship going to Metal Box, in their 30th year in '93, with the title going to Bosso, and in their 40th year in 2003, with the league crown going to Amazulu.

When they celebrated their Silver Jubilee, in '88, they didn't win the title, too, with Zimbabwe Saints taking it to the City of Kings.

You get a feeling they owe it to their fans for something special next year.

Goodbye 2012 and welcome 2013

Yes, folks, it has been another tough year for our football and there are many of us who would want to quickly see the back of this year.

What are your wishes for the coming year?

I hope the Warriors compete very well even when the 2014 World Cup campaign already looks doomed, I hope someone will bail out Zifa, I hope we will see football, instead of the politics of football, dominating the landscape, I hope Bosso will be competitive again, I hope CAPS will be a force again and I hope Dynamos will make a big impression on the continent.

Of course, I hope Manchester United, the greatest comeback kings of all-time, will win league championship Number 20.

Best wishes for the New Year.

To God be The Glory

Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chicharitooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

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