insidesport:with MICHAEL KARIATI
The draw for the World Cup could not have been kinder for the Warriors of Zimbabwe than it has done for the 2022 edition where the Warriors have been placed alongside Ghana and South Africa, who have lost their way around the top of the African football map.
More so, that the Warriors are also in the same group with little Ethiopia, who many believe, are like the Biblical Daniel, who this time around — is in the lions’ den — waiting to be eaten up and then spat out of the tournament.
In fact, that Ethiopia are in this World Cup Group G, in the first place, is an achievement itself. Since qualifying for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations after 31 years in the wilderness, the Ethiopians have — once again — made a mysterious disappearance, and have failed to make it to Afcon — even in 2019 — when the tournament was expanded to 24 teams.
Their story is no different from that of the Black Stars, who are also living on achievements of the past. It is a fact that Ghana have made three World Cup appearances, and have also won the Nations Cup four times, but their last Africa title came way back in 1982, when the legendary Abedi Pele was still a “teenager”.
Pele has since long retired and his sons Jordan and Andre are now part of the Black Stars side that is still searching for the formula to win that fifth Africa title, 38 years after their father made that explosive Nations Cup debut in Ivory Coast.
Perhaps, the Warriors would feel happier in the same group with Bafana Bafana who are struggling heavily to get back on their feet. Gone are the days when South Africans were admired by many for their slick passing game — the days they won the Nations Cup, the days of 1998 and 2002 when they represented Africa at the World Cup before putting up a good show as hosts in 2010.
Now the South Africans are an ordinary side and many African teams would prefer to play against than avoid them, and even suffered a quarter-final exit at the 2019 Afcon when a semi-final berth looked easier to attain.
So, facing Ethiopia, Ghana and South Africa is probably the best World Cup draw that the Warriors have received since 1980 when they were admitted to international football, and probably their best chance ever to qualify for the global football festival.
That, also coming at a time when new stars have emerged in the form of Tino Kadewere, Marshall Munetsi and Marvelous Nakamba, while discoveries like Tendai Darikwa and Alec Mudimu have made their mark and McCauley Bonne is waiting on the wings for his chance, is propitious
More encouraging is the fact that the heart and soul of the team Khama Billiat of Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa and Knowledge Musona of KAS Eupen in Belgium have remained with the squad and have gained maturity since the 2017 Afcon show in Gabon.
Although public opinion is divided over the Warriors’ chances, the truth is that Zimbabwe has a gifted all-round team that would prove difficult to stop once it negotiates its way out of Group G.
What is only required is for the Zimbabwe Football Association to bring an end to the guessing game by taking on board a coach — be it local or foreign — capable of moulding together the disparate elements into a force that can fight the war on two fronts: the 2021 Afcon and the 2022 World Cup.
As has been said over and over again, Zifa should appoint that national team coach right now so that he has time to have a look at the players and make his choice of the best according to his heart’s content.
In the same vein, Zifa should also be bold enough to ask Bonne of Charlton Athletic in the English Championship — and others with his line of thinking — whether his heart is with Zimbabwe or he is waiting for an England call-up and should that not come, then decide on a Warriors fallback.
With both the 2021 Afcon and the 2022 World Cup in sight, this is not the time to kneel down in front of players, but the time to select those who are committed to the Zimbabwe cause not because of the World Cup, but for the future as well.
Right now, Warriors team manager Wellington Mpandare should be busy following up on the Zimbabwean players in foreign lands and also creating a good relationship with their clubs to avoid problems when the World Cup campaign gets into full swing.
Everyone knows that the World Cup is coming way off in October, but in between March and September there are the 2021 Afcon engagements which need the same attention as the World Cup, and that should be the starting point.
There was a joke circulating that Zimbabwe would be facing four other teams in their World Cup campaign — the other one being Zifa — and the football controlling body should ensure that they would not be the ones to blame should the Warriors fall by the wayside.
This means Zifa should avoid the seeds of self-destruction which lie in the money problems and the shambolic preparations which have always characterised Zimbabwe’s build-up to every international assignment.
It is a fact that the financial weight of both the Nations Cup and the World Cup could prove too much for the football federation, but it does not hurt for them to approach the government when there is still time and also try other corporate avenues.
Too many promises have been made to sport and in particular to football by the too many Sports ministers who have come and gone and it is now up to Kirsty Coventry to rescue the industry that gave her fame and also helped her get this ministerial post.
As the days move towards Zimbabwe’s first international assignment for the year 2020 on March 23 against Algeria in the Nations Cup, pessimists are already sharpening their knives hoping for a Warriors failure, but the boys should be ready to rock-and-roll when the time comes.
Having missed the 2018 boat in Russia, the Warriors should be hungry to make it up for the lost opportunity, and the year 2020 could be one to remember for years to come for millions of Zimbabwean football lovers.
Not only should the Warriors in September seal qualification to the 2021 Afcon finals, but should also be at the top of their 2022 World Cup group come December 31 — that should be the goal.
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