Zimbabwe: When Yogi Almost Ruled the World

Senior Sports Editor

IT was a success story, which vibrated throughout the world and, at the heart of it all, was an assuming coach who had dragged his men from a decade of perennial failure, to another dance with Africa's finest football clubs.

Such was their significant impact, across the entire football globe, they even attracted the attention, and compliment, of one of the leading British newspapers, The Guardian.

Forget about Egypt winning a record sixth, of their seven AFCON titles, after beating Cameroon 1-0, in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, in the final.

Or a 21-year-old Lionel Messi, announcing his arrival on the international stage by leading Argentina to the football crown, at the 2008 Olympics in China.

According to The Guardian newspaper, had Dynamos cleared the 2008 Champions League semi-final hurdle, and won the the title, they would have been world "football's biggest winners this season."

It's not every day that local football clubs get such glowing recognition and it's a measure of how the Glamour Boys had defied the odds, in a merry adventure that took them to the gates of paradise, which forced the world to take notice.

Of course, they came short, falling in the semi-finals, after a comprehensive 0-5 aggregate defeat, at the hands of eventual losing finalists, Coton Sport of Garoua.

But, for DeMbare to get that far, given the challenges they kept facing, in a journey in which they took on some of the best clubs on the continent, and triumphed, will remain one of the tournament's greatest fairytale adventures.

And, the architect of that success story, was coach David Mandigora, the humble gaffer, who found a way to take his club back to the top of the domestic football tree, after 10 years of failure.

It remains the longest barren spell for Dynamos, without winning the league championship, since their formation in 1963.

When Mandigora, who died in Harare on Saturday at the age of 64, was handed the responsibility to revive the Glamour Boys in 2006, they were in tatters.

They had just missed relegation from the domestic Premiership on the final day of the 2005 season, requiring a 2-1 victory over a championship-chasing Masvingo United, at Mucheke, to guarantee their place in the top-flight league.

Then, a few months after that Great Escape in Masvingo, they lost virtually the entire squad, with their players, unhappy with the way the club's leaders had not been paying their dues, left en-masse, to join newboys Shooting Stars.

Mandigora had to build his team from scratch and, the following year, he won the league championship before taking the Glamour Boys back into the Champions League where they charmed the globe:

They shocked the continent by becoming the first club to defeat Tunisian giants Etoile du Sahel, in a CAF Champions League match in Sousse, when Benjamin Marere's solitary goal provided them with one of their greatest results on the road, in this tournament.

Having edged Etoile du Sahel 1-0 in Harare, in the first leg of their second round battle through a goal by Desmond Maringwa, the Glamour Boys were largely expected to implode, in the reverse fixture, in Tunisia, where many clubs had been crushed by the hosts.

However, Mandigora and his men defied the odds, with a gritty show in which their defensive discipline caught the eye before Marere settled matters, with the goal which powered them to a 1-0 victory, and a 2-0 aggregate triumph, which sent shockwaves, across the continent.

That the Tunisians were then the defending African champions, after having won the tournament the previous year with a comprehensive 3-1 aggregate victory over record winners Al Ahly of Egypt in the final, put into context the special nature of that Glamour Boys success story.

Given DeMbare only arrived in Tunisia, just a few hours before the match, after their trip had been hanging in the balance, because of financial challenges, made their achievement even more special and, in a blink, it had caught the attention of neutrals, around the world.

Etoile du Sahel were one of the four former African champions which those Glamour Boys met in that Champions League adventure, where they defeated three of those giants, including ASEC Mimosas who - like the Tunisians, were beaten home-and-away, and five-time African champions Zamalek of Egypt - on their way to the semi-finals.

Record eight-time African champions Al Ahly needed a 93rd minute goal in Cairo, to find a way to beat those plucky Glamour Boys 2-1 in a group stage showdown, while DeMbare's never-say-die spirit was paraded by their sensational victories over ASEC Mimosas in Abidjan, and Zamalek at Rufaro.

A 96th minute goal by Philip Marufu in Abidjan, when the referee had given six added time minutes to try and buy time for the hosts to score the winner, only for it to backfire in spectacular fashion, fired DeMbare to a 2-1 victory.

Given all the challenges which those Glamour Boys had to endure on the domestic front, including a financial squeeze which left some of their away trips hanging in the balance until the last minute, their march into the semi-finals of that Champions League cheered many around the world.

Their success forced DeMbare into the pages of newspapers around the world, including The Guardian, which even went on to suggest that should those Glamour Boys win the Champions League that year, it would be the greatest success story in world football that year, eclipsing even Spain's Euro 2008 triumph in Switzerland and Austria.

"In Zimbabwe, Dynamos FC are nicknamed the Glamour Boys because they're the country's most popular club," The Guardian journalist, Paul Doyle, said in a piece dedicated to the Harare giants in the newspaper.

"But, in the wider world of African, let alone global, football, that sobriquet could easily be seen as sarcastic.

"For financially Dynamos are in dire straits even though they can sell out their 45 000-capacity stadium, where at the start of this season the cheapest tickets cost one hundred million dollars.

"Now, here's the story of the greatest football achievement of the season. It's a story without an end as yet, but if what's happened so far is anything to go by, it will culminate with Dynamos being crowned the most unlikely continental champions ever.

"Dynamos may have ended 10 barren years by claiming the League and Cup double last season but only two of their players are in the Zimbabwe squad that has already been eliminated from the 2010 African Cup of Nations.

"Yet, last Saturday, Dynamos beat Zamalek to reach the semi-finals of the African Champions League. Zamalek, the Egyptians, who've won the tournament five times, boast a slew of internationals and are flush enough to employ an expensive German coach and pay Amr Zaky's replacement, Junior Agogo, some £300 000 per year. Those resources should put them in another world to the Glamour Boys. Becoming No. 1 would mean scooping the Champions League's $1m prize fund -- that's US dollars."

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