TODAY the curtain comes down on the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations finals with the Warriors of Zimbabwe watching the game on television when they should have been there fighting for the title.
insidesport with MICHAEL KARIATI
Kalisto Pasuwa’s side were eliminated in the group stages before the “real” men started competing for the crown after finishing rock bottom of Group B with only one point from three games.
It was a cruel way to end a campaign that had started off brightly with that brilliant show in their opening game against Algeria’s Desert Foxes which ended in a two-all draw.
That, however, is now history and the Warriors do not have to hang their heads in shame unless in some way they believe that was the end of the road for their Africa Cup of Nations journey.
The Nations Cup will always be there for as long as football lives. What the Warriors now need to do is to focus on their future and in particular the 2019 qualifiers in which they have been drawn in what looks like a tough qualifying group against DR Congo, Congo Brazzaville and Liberia.
Qualification to the continental football finals in Cameroon should be the immediate target as a build up to future international success and more importantly, qualifying for the World Cup.
It is a fact that the Warriors were a big disappointment in Gabon, but the experience garnered from their participation could be of use in the future.
If Zimbabwe are to have a strong team in their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign, it is important that the majority of the current crop of Warriors and their coach are kept together for the rigours and pressure ahead.
The two years they have been together for the 2017 Nations Cup trip, and the two years they would be together in the qualifying campaign for the 2019 tournament, will add their experience together to four years, which will be enough for them to mount a serious challenge for the 2019 title.
That international experience will also be of use when the Warriors launch their bid for qualification to the expanded 2022 World Cup finals after missing out of the 2018 finals following the then Zifa leadership’s failure to pay Brazilian coach Valinhos his dues.
With that in mind, what Zifa also need to do is make sure that the players are paid all their outstanding dues so that when the 2019 qualifiers begin, there won’t be any grumbling over money.
Zifa should also ensure that funds are available to take care of the players well when in camp instead of what happened the last time when they were accommodated at the Zifa village and had to buy food for themselves.
There is also need for Zifa to review the criteria of their appointment of Warriors assistant coaches as there have always been question marks over their choices.
Rumours have also been flying around with regards to Pasuwa’s future. However, there is a section of football followers who believe that Zifa and the Warriors still need the man they used to call “Marabhundu” during his playing days.
Former Zifa sub-committee member Peter Ndowa is of the opinion that Zifa should persuade Pasuwa to stay since he has built a very good relationship with the players, and has also learnt a lot from the Gabon experience.
Ndowa is of the opinion that what Zifa needs to do — between now and the start of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations — is to send Pasuwa for training in Europe or on attachment with a top European team to broaden his knowledge of reading the game.
There are many who agree with Ndowa, with others suggesting that should Zifa fail to send Pasuwa to Europe, they should bring in a foreign technical advisor, with Pasuwa remaining as the head coach in charge of training and team selection.
Whatever their suggestions are, the advice for Zifa is for them to keep Pasuwa for at least the next edition of the Africa Cup of Nations finals, and fire him should he fail to take the Warriors to Yaounde.
A new coach will surely start from the foundation and that would mean Zimbabwe starting all over again at a time they had moved a step forward by qualifying for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations finals after 11 years of failure.
It would be wise for Zifa to keep him and “Marabhundu” would certainly also keep the majority of his promising team together for the tasks and pressure ahead.
With the right atmosphere, the likes of Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat, Tatenda Mukuruva, Tendai Ndoro, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Danny Phiri and Marvelous Nakamba can take the Warriors to Cameroon and even do better at the finals.
The qualifiers for that tournament might look far away but in football, time moves fast.
Now is the time to start preparations if Zimbabwe are to make an appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations finals for the second time running.
Today, however, either Cameroon or Egypt will be crowned the 2017 Africa champions.
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