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Referee prayed with the other team

The 30th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations has entered its second day.

Inside Sport with Michael Kariati

As we look forward to an exciting show, I would like to take a long walk down memory lane to reflect on some of the football festival’s funniest moments.

One of them took centre stage at the 1984 finals in the Ivory Coast during the semi-final encounter between the Pharaohs of Egypt and the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

Officials from international football controlling body, Fifa, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and spectators at large were stunned when the Egyptian team went into prayer and the referee joined them in that prayer session as the teams headed for the dreaded penalty shootouts.

The Egyptians had gone 2-0 up before Nigerian captain Stephen Keshi pulled one back. Then Ali Bala equalised for the Super Eagles with 15 minutes left to send the game into penalty shootouts.

Then something funny happened.

The Egyptian players ran to the touchline where their kit bags were and drew out small copies of the Holy Koran, and started praying right on the football pitch.

They were a religious team and the five players to take the penalty kicks went through the pages of the Koran praying. The referee from Gambia, Omar Sey, was confused and didn’t know what to do.

He was also Muslim and so, did not want to disturb the Egyptian players in their prayers.

What happened next stunned everyone including the Nigerian players. Sey, the referee then joined the five Egyptian penalty takers in prayer — right on the field of play.

The players were praying to Allah that they convert their penalty kicks and the referee was adding his voice to their prayers!

It was unbelievable for this was the first time something like that had happened, not only in African football but also the world over.

But when the teams finally took their penalties, the Egyptians lost 4-5 and their star player, Taher Abu Zeid popularly known as the Maradona of the Nile, missed the crucial penalty kick to hand the Super Eagles a passage into the final.

The Nigerians, however, went on to lose the final 3-1 to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.

That is football. It is so funny.

On that note, let the best team win the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.

The Zimbabwean situation
While the best in Africa are in Equatorial Guinea for the biggest prize in African football, the Warriors are at home, counting the costs of their failure to make it to the continental football rendezvous.

Instead of being there with the best, the Warriors — just like their fans and followers — will be glued to their television sets to watch others play.

This is the fifth Nations Cup in a row that the Warriors have not been part of, but their most recent failure had nothing in common with their previous failed attempts.

This was their worst attempt since admission into international football as they fell by the wayside right at the beginning of their campaign after losing 3-2 to lowly ranked Tanzania in the preliminary round.

Yes, that was humiliation and as a result, we are being forced to hide our heads in shame.

But the truth is, we cannot run away from the fact that this is not the beginning of the end of our football journey.

The Nations Cup will be there for as long as football lives in Africa. What is required now is to draw lessons from that Tanzanian debacle and look forward to the future with optimism.

We need to learn from other successful African football nations and see where they have been getting it right and also where we have been getting it wrong.

South Africa also missed out on the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finals after getting eliminated in the first round when they hosted the competition in 2013.

But that is now history. Bafana Bafana have qualified for the 2015 extravaganza. That is what we call learning from experience.
The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2018 World Cup finals are not far away. The Warriors can do it. It is only them that can do it for the country and not somebody else!

Now is not too early to start laying down the foundation for that future success.

Those at the Zimbabwe Football Association have to start moving around right now to ensure that funds for the national team are available in time to cater for camping and player bonuses.

I am of the opinion that Kalisto Pasuwa is not the right man for the Warriors and should remain where he is, with the Under-23 side. A highly experienced coach with a good track record has to be appointed right now. It does not matter whether the coach is a foreigner or a local. What is important is appointing the right person.

We qualified for the Nations Cup in 2004 and 2006 and nearly made it to the 1994 World Cup. We can still do it if the right decisions are made.

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