IndependentSport View with Darlington Majonga
WE never thought things could be so bad that a team would end up cheering even a corner-kick or a goal kick until we watched the Warriors plumb the depths of des
pair with a mediocre recital that they didn’t even believe in themselves.
This day last year, the talisman of African football was in town. The Jay-Jay Okocha show had stormed Harare.
It’s exactly a year gone-by since the Warriors conspired to fling to the wind Zimbabwe’s chances of a maiden run at the World Cup finals that they would be attempting to seal their berth at the African Nations Cup showcase in Egypt this Sunday.
Though few might care to recall that horrendous afternoon, this Sunday – exactly a year to the day – could mark another historic chapter in Zimbabwe’s football.
Zimbabwe are on the brink of an historic second ever berth at the Nations Cup finals. And not making it through the backdoor this time round would even be sweeter!
But more significantly, the qualifier against Rwanda could be the swansong for Warriors skipper Peter Ndlovu and a host of other old-timers.
It’s an incentive for Zimbabweans to throng the National Sports Stadium to marvel – probably for the last time – at the Flying Elephant in action on home soil after a decade-and-a half of pure magic in national colours.
Zimbabwe’s last match this year will be away to Nigeria on October 8 and we can’t all afford to miss this Sunday – a day that could mark another milestone in local football.
We are not insinuating that Ndlovu hangs his boots, but we won’t even bet our stand at Whitecliff farm for presaging the star footballer’s looming retirement from the international scene after next year’s Nations Cup finals in Egypt.
We all would love to see the influential captain playing on until we discover another Peter Ndlovu, but at 32 his age might not allow him anymore. After all, Ndlovu had wanted to quit international football soon after the Nations Cup finals last year and there’s little doubt he might not do it this time round.
The beacon of the Warriors’ campaigns over the last decade, Ndlovu might now want to concentrate on his club in South Africa.
The same goes for the likes of crowd favourite Dumisani Mpofu, veteran goalkeeper Gift Muzadzi and leftback Charles Yohane. They might all still have two or so competitive years left in them, but it’s normal they might all desire to end their careers on a high.
The professionals will be key to Zimbabwe’s campaign at next year’s Nations Cup showpiece, which they are likely to grace unless Satan waves his evil wand and we lose on Sunday.
For now, it would be in the best interests of every Zimbabwean soccer lover to watch Ndlovu and his fellow old-timers’ dedication to national duty probably for the last time on home soil.
We hope this Sunday, already in history books as our worst day in soccer, will bring us good tidings and deliver us the Holy Grail of African football.
This time last year, we were all ecstatic and had faith in the Warriors that we believed would embarrass the fabled Super Eagles of Nigeria on our home soil. Folklore chorus Yave Nyama Yekugocha was sung as thousands honked their car horns and others draped in national colours paraded their way to the National Sports Stadium.
As much as we wanted to humiliate Nigeria, we also drooled at the opportunity to watch Okocha’s skills that have mesmerised the world on display in Harare.
But lo and behold, it’s the day every Zimbabwean would want to forget quickly. Not least veteran soccer commentator Charles Mabika, who lost his job after he was accused of lacking “patriotism” when he simply remarked at the brilliance of Okocha.
To imagine that Nigeria had the temerity to ignore tried-and-tested players such as Celestine Babayaro, Obafemi Martins, Nwanko Kanu, Sunday Oliseh, Finidi George and a host of other talented players dotted around the globe for the Harare qualifier just left us with a bitter taste in our mouths.
Instead of embarrassing the Super Eagles, it’s the thousands who thronged the National Sports Stadium who were left with egg on the face.
The Warriors seemed overwhelmed by the simple fact that they were playing Nigeria. By the time the match kicked off, the Warriors had already lost the psychological battle.
So mesmerised by their opponents on the field were they that a joke went around that Ndlovu had asked to be substituted so that he could have a chance to marvel at Okocha’s skills from the terraces as well.
Reports of indiscipline in the camp prior to the crucial assignment did not help the Warriors either as some players were alleged to have sneaked out for swigs and skips at nightspots in town.
If anyone had a short memory, that’s when we kissed our chances of a maiden World Cup appearance goodbye, although some would want to believe we still have a mathematical likelihood of making the Germany finals next year.
This Sunday, it will be a totally new ball game. It’s not 2004 but 2005 – lest history repeat itself.
But Rwanda are not Nigeria, and the Wasps don’t have an Okocha.
The coach is now Charles Mhlauri, and he knows what Zimbabweans deserve and expect.
Though the team is basically the same, we would want to believe the Warriors have learnt a thing or two.
After walloping the Wasps 2-0 in the reverse fixture in Kigali on July 3 last year, there is every temptation the Warriors might take a lackadaisical approach to the qualifier. But they would do themselves a great favour by remembering why little Swaziland and Lesotho once humiliated us in front of capacity crowds.
At least Mhlauri seems to be tough on discipline although we feel he was too harsh on Edelbert Dinha, who he badly needed for the rightback position in the absence of George Mbwando.
Well, after winning the regional Cosafa Castle Cup with a second-string side, who are we not to trust Mhlauri to do it with whoever is available?