Zimbabwe: One Year Later, It's Still Painful

Senior Sports Editor

THEY flattered their fans in Nigeria, giving them a reason to believe, before deceiving them in Egypt as they produced their worst AFCON finals campaign.

Today, June 1 2020, marks exactly a year to the month when the sequence of those events unfolded.

And, the Warriors went from potential Nations Cup giant-killers into hopeless punching bags, in a sensational collapse that was as graphic as it was embarrassing.

The wounds inflicted by that adventure from hell are yet to heal.

Both George Chigova and Edmore Sibanda are yet to keep goals for the Warriors and while ZIFA insist the duo wasn't banned from national duty, conspiracy theories suggest otherwise.

A year later, the Warriors are yet to play an AFCON qualifier under the guidance of a substantive coach.

In the two Nations Cup matches they have played, since their doomed Egyptian adventure, they were under the guidance of a caretaker coach, Joey Antipas. Of course, they have a substantive coach now, Croatian gaffer Zdravko Logarusic, but he is yet to take charge of a single match after international football was halted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Sunday Chidzambwa retreated from the front-line of football coaching saying, after more than a quarter-of-a-century in the trenches, in which he transformed himself into the country's most successful coach, the time had come to take a step back.

Instead, he announced, he remains available to offer consultancy, helping the coaches, either as a technical director or a technical expert.

His legacy remains intact -- the first coach to lead the Warriors to the AFCON finals, the only coach to lead the team at two Nations Cup finals, the only coach to lead a local side to the final of the CAF Champions League.

Peter Ndlovu, the greatest Warrior, even wants authorities to honour Chidzambwa with a statue outside Rufaro.

But, Chidzambwa agrees it wasn't the way he would have wanted to complete the cycle of his lengthy association with the Warriors, a team he captained at Independence in 1980.

Two losses, and a draw, was a poor return for a team which arrived at the AFCON finals as potential giant killers after winning their qualifying group, in which they defeated the DRC Leopards in their Kinshasa backyard.

A goalless draw against Nigeria at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, on June 8, last year, in a friendly match just days before the AFCON finals, appeared to suggest this was a team that could shake the establishment in Egypt.

"The Warriors were clear underdogs heading into this tie but made the best of the situation by coming out strong and determined at the Stephen Keshi Stadium," noted the authoritative Goal.com football website.

"They gave the Super Eagles a lot of trouble with some of their forward runs and chances which put the Nigerian back line on their knees.

"Even when Nigeria has their chances, the Zimbabwe defence was very much Albert with Edmore Sibanda making some very fine saves.

"With the kind of spirit showed in Asaba, there is a lot to be hopeful for Sunday Chidzambwa's men when AFCON proper kicks off." But, after a battling performance, in a losing cause against the Pharaohs in the opening game of the tournament, with Sibanda outstanding in goal, the Warriors campaign went downhill.

They should have won against the Cranes of Uganda but skipper Knowledge Musona, battling confidence issues and still not 100 percent fit, produced the miss of the tournament.

However, all that paled into insignificance when compared to the meltdown they suffered in their final game against the DRC where they crashed to a 0-4 thrashing, their heaviest defeat at the AFCON finals.

With their camp in turmoil, amid frequent boardroom battles between the players and ZIFA over payments, the Warriors struggled to get the focus needed for such an important adventure.

And, in the end, the negativity in their camp was just too much for them to produce the kind of football their fans had expected and their opponents had feared. Musona had said they wanted to be the Ajax Amsterdam of that AFCON finals.

"We have the hosts and they are always going to be favourites," he said.

"DR Congo have a strong team and they will know what to expect from us.

"Uganda are a very good team also.

"Zim are the only underdogs in the group but that, in itself, should give us the motivation to say we are the Ajax Amsterdam of the Nations Cup.

"We are going there to fight and give disappointment to other teams."

But, like the real Ajax Amsterdam, the Warriors found out that fairy-tales don't usually come true.

The Dutch side had charmed the world by thrashing both Real Madrid and Juventus in the Champions League and, in the final minute of their semi-final showdown against Tottenham Hotspur, they were on their way to the final.

But, they conceded a last-minute goal at home and, instead, it was Spurs who marched into the final.

And, probably still feeling the effects of that painful exit, Ajax Amsterdam crashed out of the group stages of this season's Champions League after another home loss to Valencia.

With an estimated 2,4 million people in the Netherlands watching that game live on television, it was a huge blow for the club and their army of supporters.

For the Warriors fans, things didn't get any better, after that Nations Cup nightmare, as their team became the first side to lose to whipping boys Somalia in a World Cup qualifier in history in September last year. With confusion rocking their camp, amid reports a number of regular players had been barred from selection because of the turmoil which rocked the team's camp in Egypt, the Warriors slumped to an embarrassing 0-1 defeat to Somalia.

With Somalia ranked 202 in the world, having lost 19 consecutive matches Over a period of eight years and unable to play at home because of the instability at home, this was one of the lowest points for the Warriors.

However, they found a way to stop the bleeding in Harare when Khama Billiat scored a last-minute goal to eliminate the plucky Somalis.

A victory in Zambia in an AFCON qualifier, where Billiat once again scored the winner, appeared to suggest the Warriors had recovered from their nightmare in Egypt. So much has happened, in the past year -- Marvelous Nakamba secured a big move to Aston Villa and Tino Kadewere won the Golden Boot in France Ligue 2 and moved to giants Lyon.

Nyasha Mushekwi retired from international football and Elvis Chipezeze bounced back from that nightmare against the DRC, in which he turned into a symbol of hate, to become the first-choice goalkeeper of the team.

But, a year to the month the Warriors produced their worst AFCON finals campaign, some of the wounds inflicted by that disastrous campaign, are still to heal. That's why, in one way or the other, Chigova and ZiKeeper remain isolated from international football.

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