Zimbabwe: 'We Are Now Walking Alone'

26 October 2021

Robson Sharuko — Senior Sports Editor

TWO South African clubs in the CAF Champions League group stage, the débutantes from Botswana squeezing into that elite 16-team club, two Zambian clubs still in the CAF Confederation Cup and a team from eSwatini still hanging on in there.

There are also two Angolan clubs, in the CAF Champions League group stage, where the débutantes, from South Africa, are also in the CAF Confederation Cup, with just one more hurdle to clear, for a place in the group stages of the second tier tournament.

Of course, there is no representative from Zimbabwe and, if ever we wanted confirmation there is something very wrong about the state of our national game, then these are the pointers to the decay, which has crept in.

Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Angola have traditionally been the big boys of football, in Southern Africa, but while others are marching on, life is slowly being squeezed out of our nation's favourite sporting discipline.

Just four years ago, the Warriors were the only Southern African representatives, at the 2017 AFCON finals in Gabon, a tournament where the likes of Bafana Bafana, Chipolopolo and the Negras Palancas of Angola, failed to qualify.

But, after finishing in 21st place, of the 24 teams at the 2019 AFCON finals, the Warriors have finished last, among all teams, at the 2020 CHAN finals, earlier this year, and also bottom of all teams, at the 2021 COSAFA Cup.

They have failed to register even one victory, in their 10 matches, at the 2019 AFCON finals, 2020 CHAN finals and 2021 COSAFA Cup, drawing three matches, losing seven, scoring just four goals and conceding 17.

Their report card carries a 10 percent mark, in terms of the points that were on offer, and what they managed to get, in their last three tournaments.

They have already crashed out of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, in a doomed campaign in which they even lost to Somalia and Ethiopia, with their only victory coming against the Somalians, in which the aggregate winner was scored in time added on.

The usual defence has been to point to the challenges brought about by Covid-19, which brought domestic football to a halt in March last year, and complicated travel, for some of the Warriors' best players, based in the United Kingdom.

But, the Cinderella tale being written by Botswana club, Jwaneng Galaxy, in their debut campaign in the CAF Champions League, appears to poke holes into the defensive shield, to try and block criticism for the game's leadership shortcomings, using Covid-19, as an excuse.

A club, which was only came in existence, when Callisto Pasuwa won the last of his four straight championships with Dynamos in 2014, have now qualified for the CAF Champions League group stages.

They have only been a member of the Botswana Premier League since 2015, having been established the previous year, when Jwaneng Comets and Debswana Youngsters merged.

Now, in their maiden adventure in CAF's flagship inter-club tournament, they find themselves among the last 16 clubs standing, in the illustrious company of the likes of Al Ahly and Zamalek of Egypt, Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa, Esperance and ES Setif of Tunisia and Raja and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco.

Sagrada Esperanca, who knocked out FC Platinum on penalties, in the preliminary round, also find themselves in heavyweight company.

But, it is the Botswana club, who are the toast of the continent after they somehow managed to turn around a 0-2 first leg deficit, against Tanzanian giants Simba SC, to win 3-1 in Dar es Salaam, and book their ticket to the group stage, on the away goals rule.

They even found themselves trailing 0-1 in Dar es Salaam, at the break, before three goals, in the second half, powered them to one of the tournament's biggest upsets.

Galaxy's last league match was their 1-0 win over Morupule Wanderers, on February 29, last year, before Covid-19 arrived in their country and halted football in Botswana.

However, they haven't been finding refuge in covering any shortcomings to the disruptions brought about by the pandemic, and today they find themselves basking in the sunshine, after staging a great escape.

Dar es Salaam was also the city where FC Platinum's journey ended last year, in a 0-4 thrashing, which was blamed to the gamesmanship of the hosts, who were accused of using Covid-19, to ensure the visitors' best players would not play in the game.

"The Botswana Football Association would like to congratulate Jwaneng Galaxy FC for qualifying for the CAF Champions League group stages," the BFA said, in a statement.

They have been milking the success, fully aware that it doesn't only cast their football in positive light but it also shows their national game is breathing, and moving forward.

They almost celebrated the success of two of their clubs only for Orapa United to concede a last-minute goal, in a 0-1 defeat in Cameroon, which saw their battle against Coton Sport ending in a 2-2 aggregate score, in the CAF Confederation Cup. The Cameroonians went through on the away goals rule.

The Botswana Under-20 women team also thrashed Angola 8-2 on aggregate, in the 2022 FIFA Under-20 World Cup qualifier, despite the disruptions brought about by Covid-19, to football in their country.

The Young Mighty Warriors were one of 13 African national teams, including Somalia, Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar, Liberia, Libya, Lesotho, the Comoros and Chad, who did not enter the qualifiers.

If the state of the domestic leagues provide a barometer to measure the health of football, in a country, then we are in serious trouble.

For all the major football playing nations around us have representatives, still battling, in the CAF inter-club competitions.

Even Amazulu, who are making their debut in the CAF Champions League, eliminated TP Mazembe, to make the group stages.

Washington Arubi's Marumo Gallants, also playing for the first time in the Confederation Cup, eliminated Congolese giants AS Vita while Zambia's Red Arrows and Zanaco, are also still part of the tournament.

Even Royal Leopards of eSwatini also find themselves in the Confederation Cup, cursing their luck, after they came close to knocking out Sagrada Esperanca, in the Champions League.

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