1 February 2014

Zimbabwe: Warriors Deserve Heroes' Welcome


THE Zimbabwe Warriors will today vie for the bronze medal in the African Nations Championships when they take on Nigeria's Super Eagles in Cape Town in a third-place play-off match. The disappointment of the team's heartbreaking loss in the semi-finals, when they crashed out in the penalty shoot-out lottery, is still pronounced among millions of their fans who feel that fate dealt them a cruel hand on Wednesday evening.

Some of the fans, in their moment of anger, have suddenly lost their capacity to reason and have, surprisingly, resorted to throwing brickbats at coach, Ian Gorowa, accusing him of getting his tactics wrong against the ultra-defensive Libyans and criticising the players who missed in the penalty shoot-out lottery.

It's surprising that a football community, which has never seen any of its representative national teams scale such lofty heights in the past 34 years, can suddenly find the ammunition to criticise these Warriors who became the first group to not only emerge out of the group stages of a continental tournament but go all the way to the semi-finals.

In two previous appearances at the CHAN finals, in 2009 and 2011, the Warriors failed to negotiate their way past the group stages but Gorowa and his troops did not only do that in South Africa but, after five matches at the tournament, they are still to lose a match.

Their defensive fortress has caught the eye and in eight hours of action at the CHAN finals, they have only conceded one goal, scored by Mali in their quarter-final show, and four other teams -- Morocco, Uganda, Burkina Faso and Libya, failed to find a way past goalkeeper George Chigova and his shield.

The solidity of our defensive unit has given us a foundation, on which to start building our national team ahead of the start of the 2015 African Cup of Nations qualifiers, and Chigova (23), Partson Jaure (23), Eric Chipeta (23), Hardlife Zvirekwi (26), Milton Ncube (26) and Danny Phiri (25) all have age on their side to make a big impact in the Warriors.

Their performance at the CHAN finals wasn't a fluke because, in four matches in the two qualifiers they played against Mauritius and Zambia, the Warriors conceded only one goal, in 360 minutes, with Chipolopolo failing to score against us in home and away matches as we eliminated our highly-fancied neighbours.

When you consider that, so far in this CHAN adventure, the Warriors have played nine games, including the two qualifiers, and conceded only two goals, it must provide that assurance, if any is needed right now, that this is a defensive partnership that knows what it is doing and could be a big part of our quest for success as we go forward.

Concerns remain, of course, about the creativity of our midfield and the cutting edge of our wings and while Kuda Mahachi shone like a beacon on the flanks in South Africa, he hasn't received support on the other wing and Masimba Mambare and Donald Ngoma did not raise their game to the levels expected of their pedigree.

But the good thing is that we now know where our weaknesses lie and they are not only restricted to finding a good winger but to also finding a creative midfielder and some strikers that can be relied upon to score goals because, at the CHAN finals, we came terribly short upfront and this was exposed crudely in that match against Libya.

We have a number of forwards who can be brought in to give the team its cutting edge in attack and Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat and Matthew Rusike are some of the young guns while Nyasha Mushekwi and Cuthbert Malajila are part of the veteran crew.

But that can wait for another day.

Today, our brief is to say that we believe what the Warriors did in South Africa was nothing short of miraculous and, in raising our national flag so high and showing that we cannot only compete against the best that the continent can offer but we can win against such teams, we take a bow to everyone who is on that tour of duty.

Every time they went into battle, the team played with their hearts, they were fearless and hunted like true Warriors, cognisant of the fact that they were carrying the hopes of millions of people who now looked up to them to cheer their spirits with a positive result or two.

These men deserve our support, for representing our nation with a lot of dignity, and selling the world a positive story about Zimbabwe, showing the globe that we have genuine talent and we are not surprised that French giants Monaco have come calling trying to secure the services of wonderkid Mahachi.

Their coach, Gorowa, should be given more time to work on his project because building a national team is not an event but a process, and he needs to be supported with resources, and we believe, judging on what we saw in South Africa, he could be the man to turn the Warriors into a team that can compete against the best on the continent. There is need for the Government and the private sector to dance to the Warriors' tune because, as has been shown in the last three weeks, we have the raw talent that can be panel-beaten into world-beating stars if our boys can be showered with the kind of support that we see in other countries and, if the national team is doing well, it doesn't only unite but cheers our nation.

Let's all go to the Harare International Airport in numbers to give our Warriors a heroes' welcome, when they come back home, because win or lose in the bronze medal play-off, they have achieved far beyond our expectations and, crucially, given us a reason to believe that the future will not be bleak.

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