BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
DESPITE arriving at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament with high hopes of success with an emerging team, Zimbabwe are now searching for answers after a disappointing campaign at the biannual continental football showpiece.
What could have gone wrong for the Zimbabwe national team to make not only an early but embarrassing exit from the tournament with a humiliating 4 – 0 loss to Democratic Republic of Congo?
The Warriors managed to score one goal in 270 minutes of football, a goal difference of minus five, to finish with just one point on the board and bottom of Group A, which also featured hosts Egypt, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Simply put, it was the worst Warriors performance at Afcon since the team made their maiden appearance in 2004.
The Warriors managed to score six, two and four goals in 2004, 2006 and 2017 respectively.
How a squad that features an array of attacking talent comprising of captain Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat, Kuda Mahachi, Nyasha Mushekwi, Knox Mutizwa and
Tino Kadewere finished the competition with just one goal boggles the mind.
A lot of expectations were on Musona after his starring role during the qualification campaign, but the Belgium-based forward ended Afcon with multiple entries
for the miss of the tournament in just three starts.
In terms of points, the classes, of 2004 and 2006 finished with three points each while the 2017 side had one point, but boasts of a better goal difference
than the 2019 team.
So how, and where, did it all go wrong?
Perhaps the biggest undoing for the Warriors ahead of the continental showpiece in Egypt was the preparations or lack thereof.
The Warriors played only two international friendlies against Nigeria and Tanzania ahead of the Afcon tournament, as the local football governing body Zifa
opted to use the regional Cosafa Cup as the main platform for the team’s preparations.
The decision to use the Cosafa tournament to prepare for Afcon was rather ill-advised as it was clear from the outset that the competition the Warriors were
going to face would be inferior as other Afcon-bound teams sent their second-string sides to Durban.
One would also have thought the infamous sideshow ahead of the 2017 Afcon tournament in Gabon, where the players snubbed the send-off gala and almost refused
to board the plane due to allowances dispute, was now a thing of the past.
This time the monetary disputes between the association and players took centre stage in Egypt as the two parties were constantly at loggerheads.
Zifa president Felton Kamambo had earlier revealed that they were already engaging players on the contracts before the players assembled for camp ahead of the
Surprisingly, the contract issue went on to steal the limelight in Egypt as the players refused to train on the eve of the tournament and threatened to boycott
the match against the hosts.
Ultimately that game did go ahead, but the row resurfaced again ahead of the final group match against DR Congo.
In the end the Warriors pocketed almost US$2 5000 each. And now the best-paid Warriors side at Afcon are now the worst performers.
Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambga conceded he was to blame for the poor results posted by the team in the Afcon finals.
“I take the blame and maybe in the near future, we need a different approach. The players we picked must deliver, so we take the blame,” he told the media
following the team’s 4-0 defeat against DRC.
Chidzambga is often touted as the finest coach to take charge of the Warriors. His record with the Warriors speaks for itself and reads — two Afcon
qualifications and four Cosafa championships across several separate stints with the national team.
But the 2019 Afcon finals in Egypt will be remembered as the event in which the veteran gaffer almost undid all the good work and success he has had with the
Warriors with the majority of local football fans united in calling for his dismissal after the team’s poor show.
Although the Warriors performed well against hosts Egypt in the first match of the tournament, Chidzambga’s men went on to miss a host of chances in the one-
all draw against Uganda.
With the team needing a win in their final match to progress to the knockout stages, Chidzambga displayed his own lack of a clear plan and left the Warriors
resembling a group of players who had been thrown together.
Questions have also been raised over Chidzambga’s team selection during the tournament.
Injuries and poor form
To be fair, injuries played a part in Zimbabwe’s overall performance at Afcon.
Zimbabwe lost midfielder Tafadzwa Kutinyu before the tournament started while goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda and star midfielder Marvelous Nakamba were injured
after the Egypt opener before missing the rest of the tournament.
China-based striker Nyasha Mushekwi joined the injury list for the second game against Uganda, while George Chigova, Devine Lunga and Alec Mudimu missed the
final match against DRC.
Zimbabwe might have done better with all the players available. Crucially, the injuries limited Chidzambga’s options in the squad where the likes of skipper
Musona battled poor form.