Zimbabwe: Solid Preparations Key to World Cup Dream

24 January 2020

THE dominant Zimbabwean sports story this week has predictably been the Warriors knowing their opponents in the group phase of 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

There was excitement within the domestic football family on Tuesday ahead of the draw held in Cairo, Egypt, with millions of fans eager to know the countries their favourite national team will go head-to-head against in its quest to make it to Qatar.

The Warriors have never featured at the global football showcase and the closest they came to doing that was when the Dream Team, under the guidance of the late German coach Reinhard Fabisch, came within 90 minutes of a place at the 1993 Fifa World Cup.

A controversial 1-3 defeat at the hands of the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, then the most dominant team on the African continent, in Yaounde, crushed our hopes for a place in the United States the following year.

Since then, we have failed to even make an impression in qualifiers for this tournament and the last time we competed at this level of the game, battling for a place in Brazil in 2014, our shortcomings were crudely exposed.

Egypt, inspired by Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah's hat-trick at the National Sports Stadium, and the Sylie Nationale of Guinea, both came to Harare and beat the Warriors who completed their campaign bottom of their group.

At least the then coach Dieter Pagels had an alibi because, in fielding a number of emerging players like Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat, and even handing the captaincy to Denver Mukamba, the German gaffer argued he was building a team for the future.

That team should have peaked during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, but the Warriors were barred from taking part by FIFA, who punished them for the sins of ZIFA leaders who had failed to pay their former coach, Valinhos of Brazil, his dues.

Now, the Warriors are back in the mix and know they will have to take on Ghana's Black Stars, Bafana Bafana of South Africa and Ethiopia in their group matches where only the winners will qualify for the final round of qualifiers from where the five African representatives will emerge.

Some analysts have said this represents a fair draw for the Warriors because anything can happen in the derby against Bafana Bafana, while the Black Stars -- crippled by in-house issues which saw their entire football leadership being sacked -- are no longer the force they used to be.

But, as some analysts have suggested, the challenge doesn't really lie with our opponents, but with ourselves because, as has happened in the past, we are specialists in pressing the self-destruct button when it comes to such campaigns.

We have become synonymous in making it hard for ourselves through poor preparations, crippling rows between players and our football leaders over what must be paid to those who ultimately go to fight on the field of play, and a host of other distractions.

For a start, we do not even have a coach to take care of the team, with ZIFA issuing a statement yesterday indicating they were still in the process of trying to get one and providing the assurance they will have found their man in time for the preparations to start.

The problem is that this is the decisive phase of the battles, when the national team coach should have already started looking at key issues like the strength of their opponents, their weaknesses, how best he will handle the threat they pose and how best to attack them.

That's why CAF invited national team coaches to the draw in Egypt so that once they get to know the identity of their opponents they can start working on how to deal with them.

Bafana Bafana coach Molefi Nsteki was in Cairo on Tuesday and has already spoken about what he feels are the strengths and weaknesses of teams in his group, including the Warriors.

He, and his coaching staff, have already spent the last few days working on the opponents and will start sending a man from this week to analyse every Zimbabwean player in the South African Premiership with the potential of making the Warriors team, looking at his strength and weaknesses.

That is what makes the difference in international football between winners and losers and not just the few days when the players spend time in camp preparing for a match.

Sadly, we do not have a technical team to start doing that because we do not have the national team coach and we have absolutely no idea if he or she, like Pagels, will prefer to go with another rebuilding exercise by going for the emerging players, or -- like Sunday Chidzambwa -- will prefer the seasoned ones.

Football authorities failed the Warriors when they chose not to pay Valinhos, leading to that banishment from the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, and they cannot fail the likes of Musona and Billiat, who could be having their final chance to make it to the global football showcase, again through administrative shortcomings.

That is why we believe the focus should be on getting the right coach for the Warriors, and not the boardroom drama that we have been seeing where personal fights have again become the order of the day.

We want the potential within our Warriors to be realised.

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