18 January 2013

Zimbabwe: We Will Pick Our Adopted Teams As If This Was an African Football Version of an NBA Draft


Milton hasn't switched allegiance, he is still a Warrior to the core, but in this silly season where adoption is the name of the game for most of us, simply because the boys that we support again did not make it to the Nations Cup finals, he has made his choice and is going with Zambia

MILTON Nyamadzawo, the former Mwana Africa team manager who now regularly writes for this newspaper on football issues from his base in Johannesburg, this week changed his WhatsApp Messenger profile picture.

Instead of a Milton in a business suit and matching tie, sitting in his office at the Jo'burg university where he works as a human resources expert, you now have a picture of a Milton wearing the green jersey the Zambian football team won during its finest hour.

During the Christmas holidays, Milton was in Zambia for two weeks, just to meet ordinary folks, talk to them about the sights and sounds of that unforgettable February day, when they became champions of African football, try to relive that experience and learn a thing or two.

This week, from his base in Jo'burg, Milton sent me a text inviting me to join him watch Chipolopolo rewrite the history books and become the first country to win the Nations Cup in two consecutive years.

After a fortnight spent in a country he calls a 'football nation', Milton is confident enough to back the Zambians to repeat their Gabonese miracle and, in the familiar surroundings of South Africa, write another success story to show that their Libreville triumph wasn't a fluke.

He believes they have a secret weapon in midfielder Chisamba Lungu, who only turns 22 on January 31, and has been making waves in the Russian top-flight league where he became the first African player to be signed by FC Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast.

Lungu arrived in Russia, via Georgia, after having played just two seasons, in the twilight years of his teenage innocence, for top Zambian side Zanaco where he made a huge impression.

I don't think the Zambians will be champions again, not because they aren't good enough, on a battlefield that has increasingly grown even over the years brightening the chances of anyone to succeed, but because it's always harder to defend the Nations Cup title.

That only three countries -- record winners Egypt ('57/'59 and 2006, 2008 and 2010), powerhouse Ghana ('63/'65) and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon (2000/2002) -- have managed to do that, in a period spanning over 56 years, puts the complexity of the exercise into context.

Milton hasn't switched allegiance.

He is still a Warrior to the core, as tough and as dedicated as they will ever come, a proud fan whose love affair with his national team remains quite strong despite the flood of tears and the countless heartbreaks that have defined this relationship.

But, in this silly season where adoption is the name of the game for most of us, simply because the boys that we support again did not make it to the big football festival, Milton has made his choice and is going with the people who hosted him for two weeks during the Christmas break.

He is not the only Warrior who has done that.

Millions of Zimbabweans will pick their adopted teams, when the 2013 Nations Cup swings into action in South Africa today, as if this was some form of an African football version of an NBA draft and will have a first choice, a second choice and even a third choice.

It's something that the people of this nation did repeatedly, when numbers and quality used to bowl us out from the tournament in the '80s, when fate, cruel fate, used to destroy our hopes in the '90s and when the retirement of King Peter marked the end of our brief flirtation with the big boys.

From today, they will pitch their hearts in the flags of a number of teams, with a lot of them supporting Zambia because they are our jolly good neighbours, Bafana Bafana, because their players play for their Super Diski teams and Cote d'Ivoire because they can't help but feel that Drogba deserves something for his services to his nation.

Milton will be backing Chipolopolo, hoping that the Copper Bullets can make history in South Africa, but I guess it's a long call and while I feel they will be competitive, I doubt they will go all the way this time around.

I don't have any favourites, maybe it's a medical condition that I have that needs urgent treatment, because I just find it impossible to support another national team that is not the Warriors just the same way I find it impossible to back another club that is not Manchester United.

Other folks do it quite easily and have teams all over the places in all the major leagues and at Alex Sports Club, back in the days, we used to have a guy called John who supported both Barcelona and Real Madrid and found it quite fashionable and enjoyable.

Maybe this is the year the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire will strike gold, if the football gods are for everyone, and it was about time that real quality was rewarded, about time the broken hearts of the Ivorians were healed and about time Drogba won the big one.

It won't be easy, especially for a team that now carries the heavy weight of this psychological burden that the football gods have eternally cursed them, a team whose prime characters are battling the demons that come with age and a team that everyone wants to beat.

It's now or never for the Golden Generation of Ivorians.

As We Watched, Mali's Eagles Soared

The Warriors are missing in action at the 2013 Nations Cup finals but I disagree with those who say that we weren't good enough, in terms of the quality of our team, to be in South Africa.

We had the quality to take us there and, even after we had shot ourselves in the foot by keeping some of them, especially Ovidy Karuru, out of the team, and frustrating Knowledge Musona to such an extent that even the minister, David Coltart, tweeted that he was no longer the same, we still should have made it.

Even after all our madness, Angola could only squeeze through on the away goals rule, and all that coming after we scored three goals in the first 45 minutes of our showdown and then scored none in the 135 minutes that followed.

When I look at teams like Angola and Mali, and see them bathing in the spotlight of the Nations Cup finals both in 2012 and 2013, it brings a sickening reminder of where our Warriors would have been had we played our cards right from the word go.

Let's take the Eagles of Mali as an example first.

They were in our qualifying group for the 2012 Nations Cup finals, they squeezed to a 1-0 win over us in Bamako, in a game that Musona missed because of injury, and they came to Rufaro and we beat them 2-1, in a game Musona scored twice.

In head-to-head clashes between the Eagles and the Warriors it was a deadlock, we both played TWO games, we both won ONE game, we both lost ONE game, we both scored TWO goals and we both conceded TWO goals over 180 minutes of action in Bamako and Harare.

By the end of the qualifying campaign, Mali topped the group with 10 points, two points better than us, after we had lost our final game in Cape Verde where a win would have swept us into the 2012 Nations Cup finals.

For me that wasn't the difference, because Mali also lost in Cape Verde, who took a maximum nine points at home.

The difference between Mali and us was that game we drew at home to Cape Verde, the two points we squandered that afternoon when the chaotic nature of our build-up finally caught up with us, and if we had won that game, which would have been possible without the coaching chaos we created, we could have ended with the same 10 points as Mali.

But that's not the bigger picture.

The same Mali that could not edge us, in head-to-head matches in the qualifying campaign which ended in a deadlock, went all the way to finish third, and take the bronze medal, at the 2012 Nations Cup finals.

The same Mali that could not shake us off went to the 2012 Nations Cup finals and beat Guinea 1-0, thrashed Botswana 6-1 with five different players on target, and lost 0-2 to Ghana in Group D to finish second, on six points, and qualify for the quarter-finals.

In 180 minutes, played in Bamako and Harare, they scored just two goals against us and conceded as many goals, in 90 minutes against Botswana at the 2012 Nations Cup finals, they scored half-a-dozen goals, three times more than what we had conceded in double time.

In the quarter-finals Mali met a high-flying Gabonese team, which had won all its three group games, and was becoming unplayable on home soil with an entire nation, including the President and his wife who never missed a match, backing its cause.

By the end of the 90 minutes, Mali had battled their way to a 1-1 draw, with Cheikh Diabate scoring five minutes from the end to tie the game, and in the penalty shootout lottery, in hostile territory, the Eagles held their nerve, and showed their class, to win 5-4.

In the semi-finals they lost to Cote d'Ivoire, 0-1, but then beat Ghana 2-0 in the third-place play-off to take home the bronze medal.

Same guys that we had played in Bamako and where we had lost 0-1, same guys that we played at Rufaro on June 5, 2011, and won 2-1, and while we were watching from home, they were good enough to win the bronze medal.

Their story should tell us something about ourselves and I have always believed that on that unforgettable afternoon, on June 5, 2011, before a full house at Rufaro, we had the composition of a very, very good national football team and very, very competitive battalion of Warriors.

That team, which Norman Mapeza had built around Karuru, who had suddenly become unplayable in national colours, might have failed to make it to the 2012 Nations Cup finals, thanks to the politics of the Cape Verde game we squandered at home, but it would have made the 2013 Nations Cup finals.

Whatever Mali achieved at the 2012 Nations Cup finals, it tells a story of where we could have gone as a team, because there wasn't anything to write home about, in terms of difference in quality, between us and the Eagles and we had shown that in the qualifiers.

Maybe we could not have gone all the way to third place, because we did not have the big stage temperament, like the Eagles, to handle pressure cooker challenges, but whatever the case, we would made an impression and, crucially, we weren't that bad to the extent of not being good enough to qualify for the 2012 Nations Cup finals.

I have been looking at the Malian squad for the 2013 Nations Cup finals and I see familiar names -- Soumbeyla Diakite, Adama Tamboura, Kalilou Traore, Madibo Maiga, Mahamodou Ndiaye and Cheikh Diabate -- and they remind me of that June day at Rufaro two years ago, when they all played for the Eagles, and lost to the Warriors.

That June day we had a team, a competitive one, that was being improved all the time, we had a playmaker, and boy oh boy he touched the heavens that afternoon, we had a coach, a young one who was getting better with each challenge he faced and, crucially, we had an army of fans that was in total support of the project.

That team scored twice against Mali, in 180 minutes, the same Eagles who then went to the 2012 Nations Cup finals and conceded just four goals, twice that number, in 480 minutes, over five games, including one that spilled into extra time, against the hosts.

That team was at the same level as Mali and it's an indictment of our systems that the Eagles have continued to soar, our boys have remained trapped in a quagmire of underachievement and will be watching from home, rather than playing on the field, when the 2013 Nations Cup finals rumble on.

A Tale Of Two Golden Jubilees

Zifa and Dynamos, the two brands that dominate football in this country, will both celebrate 50 years this year and it was refreshing to hear Cuthbert Dube telling the media this week that he wants a focus shift from his association from now onwards.

The Zifa president wants to see more effort, and resources, being channelled towards football development initiatives, the association shaking off its parasitic syndrome and giving value to the Warriors' brand that has been battered by a load of negativity in the past three years.

That's encouraging because that is what we have been asking for all this time since that's all that matters in football and Cuthbert Dube's legacy will be linked, forever, to how the Warriors rise from the slumber.

When both Zifa and Dynamos take stock, after 50 years of existence, they will see that they have a lot in common, especially in terms of unfulfilled potential, a historical reluctance to embrace change, chronic challenges of under-funding, a number of missed opportunities and a tradition of attracting some wrong people into their administrative arms.

It's grossly unfair to look at Zifa, in terms of leadership, concentrating on the crew that is in charge today and try and pretend that they are the very first group to run into serious turbulence while steering this cursed ship.

To try and pretend that we always had brilliant administrators, in charge of Zifa before this team took over, would be a shameless act of living in denial because we know that we have had some horrible leaders in the past whose contribution to the value of the game cannot be traced.

DeMbare have been held back, too, by an ageing band of board of directors, whatever they call themselves, which remains trapped in the business models of the Swinging Sixties, when a shilling was a lot of money, and who have resisted change to help their institution move with the time.

But, when it comes to success on the field, DeMbare, for all their administrative challenges, have shone like a beacon and have earned the right to be called the biggest football brand in this country bigger than anything you can ever think of.

When they celebrate their Golden Jubilee, Dynamos will be right to say they have done more, in terms of success and making a big impression, on the continent, than the Warriors and, when it comes to visibility outside our borders, as a brand, they are bigger.

You can walk into an Algerian restaurant and when you say 'Dynamos,' it's likely to trigger a reaction, because they have this identity they have created on the continent as a football brand.

If you say 'Warriors', in the same restaurant, it's unlikely to trigger any reaction.

The facts and figures tell the story.

The Warriors have been to two Nations Cup finals in 33 years of Independence and their best positions came in 2004 and 2006 when, on both occasions, they finished in 12th place on the final classification table.

They won the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in '85 and a host of Cosafa Cup titles but all these are regional titles.

Dynamos, during the same time, have kept an impressive average ranking, in all the years they have played in the old Cup of Club Champions, from '81 to '86, and the Champions League, from '88 to this time, of ninth best football club in Africa.

In the '80s, DeMbare kept an average ranking of ninth best football club in Africa (7th in '81, 9th in '82, 14th in '83, 5th in '84, 15th in '86, 6th in '87); in the '90s DeMbare kept an average ranking of seventh (9th in '90, 9th in '95, 14th in '96, 2nd in '98 and 6th in '99).

Between '98 and '99, Dynamos kept an average as the 4th best team in Africa, and they were fourth again in 2008, eighth in 2010, 17th in 2011 and 16th in 2012.

When you touch the heavens, as they did in '98, and come so tantalisingly close to being crowned African champions, the nearest that we have ever come as a nation, to celebrating a continental crown in football, then you know you have made a huge impression.

It's when they begin drifting far away from greatness and they finish 17th, as was the case in 2011, and 16th as was the case last year, that the real value of what they achieved, in getting so close to glory in '98, emerges and why the Super Class of '98 should be hailed as all-time legends.

Stop This Glamour Boys' Madness

Someone wrote a message to this newspaper's sms feedback page, which was published yesterday, questioning why Dynamos dominates the back pages of The Herald and how this irritates him.

Well, it's normal because their sheer size and their achievements all help to make DeMbare such a newsworthy brand that no newspaper in this country can afford to ignore on its back pages.

Marca, who have 3 million readers every day in Spain, making them the biggest daily newspaper there, are dominated by Real Madrid stories and that has been the case since December 21, 1938, when the first edition rolled out to the streets.

In 2008, Alex Ferguson, labelled Marca "a vehicle to unsettle players on behalf of Real Madrid," at the height of the Spanish club's quest to get Cristiano Ronaldo.

When news agencies quote Marca, they call it the "Real Madrid-supporting newspaper."

I was searching something on Mexico when I came across this on sport-newspaper.blogsport.com: "Mexican sport newspapers support the most important football teams like Club America, Chivas and UNAM Pumas."

Last year, Manchester City legend, Mike Summerbee, said the English media was biased towards rivals Manchester United.

"What annoys me with the media, sometimes, is that they only see United. They go on as though we don't exist and that annoys me," said Summerbee.

"I don't mind banter, I don't even mind jokes at our expense, but when I feel the progress that we have clearly made -- on and off the field -- is being ignored then it gets my goat."

This week, Luis Suarez, in an interview with Fox Sports Argentina, went a step further.

"Manchester United controls the media, they are powerful and the media will always help them."

You see, it's not only about us and Dynamos, it's how the game is around the world.

To God Be The Glory!

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


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