On July 3, 2003, Sunday Chidzambwa led Zimbabwe to their first ever Africa Cup of Nations finals after the Warriors qualified for the 2004 Tunisia finals as one of the best runners-up.
insidesport: with MICHAEL KARIATI
It was a success story that united the whole nation as Asians, blacks, coloureds and whites all sang and danced with joy to what was a historic occasion not only in Zimbabwean football, but for the country as a whole.
As the celebration reached the climax, cars raced in the streets with Zimbabwean flags flapping from the windows as the whole country celebrated what had looked like the impossible.
What was even heartening was the fact that qualification had been brought about by a local coach, Chidzambwa, after the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) had tried coaches from all the four corners of the planet, but without success.
Coaches with all sorts of qualifications and all sorts of history had come from such far-off places as Switzerland, Poland, Ghana, Scotland and Germany, but without the required results and Chidzambwa’s success changed the notion that foreign coaches were better.
Even former Bayern Munich coach Rudi Gutendorf who claimed to have been in the Guinness Book of Records for having worked successfully in all the five continents of the globe, came to Zimbabwe and failed to lead the Warriors to the promised land.
Not to mention former Chelsea coach Ian Porterfield, who also took charge of the Warriors before leaving without any results to talk of.
Some argued that Chidzambwa and Zimbabwe had it easy and that their qualification as the best runners-up, after Gabon beat Sierra Leone 2-0 to hand Zimbabwe the ticket to the finals, had been achieved through luck.
Fine, luck is part of football, but to credit the Warriors’ qualification entirely to luck would not be fair as the Warriors had 13 points, the highest in comparison to all their competitors as Zambia had 11 points, Sierra Leone had 10 while both Niger and Congo Brazzaville were way behind on nine.
More importantly was the fact that the Warriors lost only once in their six matches, winning four and drawing only once and for that matter away to eventual group winners Mali.
Once again, Zifa have turned to Chidzambwa to wave his magic wand and hand the Warriors another place at the Africa Cup of Nations finals and this time not in Tunisia, but Cameroon.
Those who know Chidzambwa better predict he will not fail the assignment of negotiating his way past the likes of Congo Brazzaville, the DRC and Liberia and believe the Warriors will this time qualify without depending on the results of other competitors.
Chidzambwa himself knows that what he will do this time around will be compared with what he has already done and failure will not do any good to his reputation.
What, however, is different between Chidzambwa’s latest assignment and the 2004 task is the fact that the coach is now working with a completely different breed of players compared to his outfit of 2004.
In 2004, Chidzambwa had a team that was not all that talented, but was laden with hard workers who were bent on results, not exciting play — players such as Lazarus Muhoni, Esrom Nyandoro, Tinashe Nengomasha, Harlington Shereni, the late Adam Ndlovu, Kaitano Tembo, Leo Kurauzvione, Dumisani Mpofu, Dickson Choto, Dazzy Kapenya, and Wilfred Mugeyi.
Yes, there were some exciting talents in that squad like Peter Ndlovu, Ronald Sibanda, and Alois Bunjira, but the core of the team was the grafters, players who are not showy, but produce results.
This time, the Warriors’ changing room is flooded with talent and not hard workers — players who are just the opposite of the breed that gave Chidzambwa success in the past.
Players like Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiart, Kuda Mahachi, Tendai Darikwa, Marvelous Nakamba, Ovidy Karuru, Teenage Hadebe, Tafadzwa Kutinyu and Talent Chawapihwa cannot be compared to the likes of Adam Ndlovu, Nyandoro, Nengomasha and Mugeyi in terms of their work rate, but are more talented in terms of exciting play.
For the record, Chidzambwa also reached the final of the 1998 Caf Champions League with a Dynamos team not flooded with exciting players, but full of hard workers, a team that had such players as Memory Mucherahowa, Masimba Dinyero, Kalisto Pasuwa, Makwinji Soma-Phiri, Vint Fulawo, Lovemore Ncube and Tonderai Mutambikwa.
The question is: Will Chidzambwa this time around be able to produce results with a team full of talent like what he did with a team of hard workers in 1998 and 2004?
The answer to this question begins this weekend when Chidzambwa’s Warriors’ side travel to Congo Brazzaville for a game whose results will set the tone for the remainder of the Warriors campaign.
Defeat for the Warriors in Brazzaville and a win for the DRC against Liberia will see the DRC open a three-point lead at the top of the table and also bring Congo Brazzaville back into contention for that sole ticket to Cameroon.
A win for the Warriors will see them maintain the top-of-the-table position and also reduce the group to a two-team race between the Warriors and the DRC with the Warriors away to the DRC on October 10 and at home to the same opponents on October 13.
So far, it is so good for Chidzambwa since taking over from Norman Mapeza as he has won two Cosafa Cup titles with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018, making him the only coach in history to win the regional competition four times having also succeeded in 2003 and 2009.
However, the Cosafa Cup is not in the same league with the Africa Cup of Nations and playing the likes of Lesotho, Namibia, Seychelles and Botswana is not the same as playing Congo Brazzaville and the DRC.
There are some who even believe that Chidzambwa’s job since taking over from Mapeza begins with the game against Congo Brazzaville. It is that game, they believe, that will give Zimbabweans a rough idea as to the direction the Warriors are heading to.
The question is: Will Chidzambwa wave his magic wand again with a new breed of players ?
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