21 October 2018

Zimbabwe: Not Time to Relax - It Is Game On

Don't count your chickens before they hatch, so they say. That is the situation in which the Warriors of Zimbabwe find themselves in, in respect of their journey to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals.

The whole nation is excited that the Warriors need only just one point in their remaining two matches to make the trip to Cameroon, but the truth is that the Warriors are not yet at the finals as they have not yet picked up that vital point. There are no written guarantees in football, and on that premise, Zimbabweans should start celebrating only after their team has qualified as at the moment the job is only three-quarters done and not yet accomplished. History has its own uses and history tells us that the Warriors have been in this situation before and failed to negotiate the corner. Needing three points to qualify for the 1992 Afcon finals, a last-minute blunder by goalkeeper John Sibanda saw Congo equalise for a 2-2 draw and that sent Zimbabwe out of the tournament.

It should be placed on record that the Congo that Zimbabwe will play last in their 2019 Afcon qualifiers on March 23, 2019, is the same Congo that in 1992 booted out the Moses Chunga-captained Warriors, who were at that time under the coaching guidance of Armando Ferreira with the late Ghanaian Ben Koufie as the technical advisor.

In 1993, needing a win against Zambia, and once again at home at the National Sports Stadium, a Kalusha Bwalya headed goal with 13 minutes of the game remaining saw the match end in a 1-1 stalemate and the Warriors were down and out, leaving Chipolopolo to make the trip to Tunisia.

In 2012 with Rahman Gumbo at the helm, Zimbabwe took what looked like a healthy 3-1 lead against the Black Panthers of Angola, only for the Zimbabweans to concede two goals in the first five minutes and with that, Angola were through to the finals on the away goals rule and the Warriors were out of the tournament.

That is the route that the Warriors should avoid at all costs. So far, it is so good for the team, but thinking that Liberia in Monrovia, and Congo Brazzaville at the National Sports Stadium, will give out points to them on a silver platter would be living in dreamland. Liberia -- whose country president George Weah is a former World Footballer of the Year -- have improved greatly and are unbeaten at home in the run-up to Cameroon 2019.

After overcoming Congo 2-1 and drawing 1-1 against the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) -- in a game they conceded a last-minute equaliser -- the Lone Star would by all costs like to preserve that impressive home record. Not only that. With the DRC on five points, and Liberia equal on four points with Congo Brazzaville, the Lone Star still have hopes of qualifying for the finals and will obviously be all out for the maximum three points against the Warriors.

The Warriors should also be reminded that the last time they were in Monrovia in 2011, the two teams drew 1-1, but at that time the Lone Star were not as strong as they are right now, and did not have a country president who loves his football like Weah does.Surely from the outset, this Liberia game looks like a point or three in the bag for the Warriors, but recent results from the National Complex Stadium show that it will not be all that a bed of roses for the Warriors.

Even Congo Brazzaville on March 23, 2019, will not be easy pickings. They have their own ambitions and aspirations and the game in Zimbabwe will offer them the opportunity to end their 2019 Afcon campaign with a flourish.

As the Zimbabwean team prepares for its assignments against Liberia and Congo, they should not look at where they stand and how many points they have right now.

They should treat the remaining matches in the same way they treated the games against the DRC whom they believed were their strongest opponents. For some of the players, this is their last Afcon tournament and they should make the best out of the opportunity that has presented itself.

The Warriors should know that it is over when it is really over. Only when they have qualified should the nation stand up and say, the job has been done.

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