Zimbabwe: It's Just CHAN, but for Kamambo It Means the World

22 October 2019

SOMETIMES, as in Sir Alex Ferguson's case, it needed a header from Mark Robins in an FA Cup tie in January 1990 to make a difference.

Avoiding the ignominy of being sacked and building a dynasty to become football's most decorated manager.

The Scotsman was on the brink, a home defeat to Crystal Palace had sparked a rebellion from the Stretford End at Old Trafford calling for Fergie to go.

And, an away defeat at in-form Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, according to many, would have seen Fergie being axed.

However, Robins scored the only goal of the match, Fergie was spared the axe and United went on to win the FA Cup, the first of 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League and two Champions League titles during the Scotsman's glorious 26-year reign.

For Felton Kamambo, and his ZIFA board, a similar kiss of life came in the most dramatic of circumstances last month.

Whether they go on to ride on that reprieve and write the success story they insist their leadership will provide to domestic football, remains to be seen.

But, what can't be denied is that the events that day provided them with some breathing space, cast some light on the darkness that had been engulfing their kingdom and bought them some time to try and make a difference.

With five minutes of regulation time left at the National Sports Stadium on September 10, the dark clouds of gloom had gathered over Kamambo and his domestic football leadership.

The wounds inflicted by the chaos of the Warriors' 2019 AFCON finals campaign where they finished with just a point amid frequent battles between the players and the leadership, had not yet healed.

Then, the humiliation of becoming the first team to lose a World Cup qualifier to a Somali team that had lost 19 times on the bounce, leading to their encounter, didn't help matters either.

Reports that a number of the team's regular players had been barred by the ZIFA leaders for their role in the chaos in Cairo, and the negativity provoked by global headlines around the world in the wake of that embarrassing defeat to Somalia, only made the situation toxic.

Tension was clearly high in the stands at the giant stadium during that match against Somalia, and when the visitors were gifted an equaliser five minutes from time, the pressure on the ZIFA board was evident.

Needing two goals in those final minutes to avoid the ignominy of being eliminated by Somalia, the Warriors appeared to have a mountain to climb.

And failure, it appears, would have sent the ZIFA board collapsing under the weight of the fury of a nation baying for its dissolution.

Knox Mutizwa scored a beauty from a free-kick before, in time added on, with one crisp swing of his left foot, Khama Biliat saved the Warriors' 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. The goal also prevented a boardroom bloodbath many feel would certainly have brought down the ZIFA leadership.

A week later, Kamambo and his fellow board members -- Philemon Machana, Farai Jere and Sugar Chagonda -- held a media conference in Harare.

The ZIFA president insisted he remained the right man to take Zimbabwean football forward.

He said the fierce criticism he has received will only transform him into a better leader of the game and appealed to the domestic football community not to judge him basing on the first nine months of his term, but on what he will deliver in the four years he will be in charge.

"We had our own challenges, particularly after our participation at AFCON," said Kamambo.

"A lot of negativity came out, particularly on social media, to the extent that our funding from FIFA was temporarily suspended.

"Auditors from FIFA came here to verify whatever was coming from social media.

"The funding has resumed now, but that affected us."

Since then, the sun has been shining on Kamambo and his ZIFA board and, on Sunday, his leadership sealed the Warriors' return to the African Nations Championships finals in Cameroon next year.

After their failure to make it to the last CHAN finals following a penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of Namibia at the giant stadium, the Warriors are back at the showcase of a tournament where they have been regular guests.

A 3-1 aggregate win over Lesotho completed the mission.

Some critics will argue, and probably rightly so, that the CHAN qualifiers should be used as a development forum where the country's Under-20 and Under-20 should be fielded to help expose them to the challenges of playing international football.

Such critics will argue the South Africans, who sent in their Under-23 side which was handed a six-goal aggregate mauling by Lesotho, will -- in the long term -- benefit more when those players are eased into the Bafana Bafana side. That's a story for another day.

The ZIFA board could argue that when you are still dealing with the fallout from an AFCON finals that turned into a nightmare, and a World Cup campaign that almost ended in humiliation, they can't take any chances and results, more than anything else, is what matters for them right now.

And that requires qualifying for the finals of tournaments like CHAN to ease the pressure on them as they try and impose their template on the domestic game.

They will possibly take it as a step in the right direction, and after the chaos of Cairo and that humiliation at the hands of Somalia, they will feel things are going according to script again.

Maybe, where Robins did it for Sir Alex about 30 years ago, the ZIFA leaders will be hoping Billiat's stunning strike against Somalia was just what they needed to find some breathing space for them to finally start imposing their gospel in the game after a turbulent start to their four-year term in office.

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