A lot of hype was created around Warrior’s coach Kalisto Pasuwa’s squad in the run up to last week’s draw in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against the National Elephants of Guinea at Rufaro.
Then, Czech Republic-based defender Costa Nhamoinesu was virtually a nonentity in local football chatter. Not much was said or expected of him in the run up to the home encounter in which a presumably star-studded Warriors team entertained sworn West African rivals.
As the teams lined up for kick-off, an Emmanuel Adebayor (the Togolese football icon) lookalike was conspicuous by his presence in the Zimbabwe team, with a black Nike headband fastening his shoulder-length dreadlocks.
Sparta Prague fullback Nhamoinesu was making a welcome return to the Warriors set up in close to eight years although injury ruled him out after he was called up by then coach Norman Mapeza for an Afcon fixture against Mali back in 2011.
His first contribution was a towering leap to make an aerial clearance early in the match, and so enormous was the jump the whole stadium was enraptured as fans were sent into dreamland.
“Aaah, Rasta vanojamba avo! [That dread locked guy can jump!],” fans were heard remarking.
He went on to win most, if not all aerial tussles during the match while his composure, reading of the game and man marking was high up there. His performance in the gold and green jersey was flawless.
When the referee signalled the end of the match, fans from all sides of the stadium were gesturing for him to come closer so that they could acknowledge him.
Journalists swarmed around him in a scramble to get the very first post-match interview on him following his superb performance in the heart of the Zimbabwe defence.
It had dawned on Zimbabweans that a world-class defender had for once been part of the national football team; a new Warriors’ cult hero had been born.
“There is just one way to put it, it’s a great honour for me. I feel really honoured to be wearing these Zimbabwean colours and today is easily one of the best days in my football career,” he told Standardsport after the match.
Having mesmerised football fans with his inimitable giant aerial clearances all afternoon, Nhamoinesu attributed his abilities to training and commitment.
“People may see me do that and think it comes naturally, no, it’s all about training, commitment and self-focus. I am always training and what I am good at, I work to get better and what I am not good at, I also try to improve so as to be able to have that aerial prowess — it’s all about training,” said the former Masvingo United defensive stalwart.
After his team Sparta Prague failed to qualify to the group stages of this year’s Uefa Champion’s league following a third round qualification defeat to Russian side CSKA Moscow, Nhamoinesu will be rubbing shoulders with some of Europe’s best side in the Europa league.
For Nhamoinesu, who is clearly enjoying his time back in the national team fold, there is only one goal — to qualify for Afcon 2017 set for Gabon. He could not, however, be drawn to comment on Zimbabwe’s absence in World Cup qualifiers.
“No doubt the goal is to try and qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations and the race is still on. We managed to get one point and we are still in a good position. We are not looking at anything else, we are concentrating on what we have and the Afcon qualifiers is what we have, so it’s not wise to waste time thinking about the World Cup at this moment and time,” he said.
A Washington Arubi schoolboy blunder in the second minute gifted the visitors Guinea, who hardly bothered the Warriors defence the entire match, an early lead before Knowledge Musona restored parity late in the opening half.
While Nhamoinesu would have loved to cap his Warriors return with a win, he refused to blame Arubi for the end result, shifting fault on the match venue.
“This stadium is not proper for playing football; it’s too hard the ball can bounce anywhere. The goalkeeper had his eyes on the ball but it took an awkward bounce. What is important is the spirit that we showed to fight from one goal down and we managed to equalise and with a little bit of luck, we could have won the game,” he said.
Nhamoinesu, who has publicly declared eagerness to wear the national team jersey and how hurt he would be each time he was left out, has been in the past accused of snubbing national team duty.
This time when the call came he did not wait for the air ticket from the football association; he just packed his bag and jumped onto the next plane at his own expense, exhibiting the mark of a true patriot.
Considering the kind of hero he has become overnight, failure by the national team coaches to include him in the Warriors line up could easily stir national outrage.