insidesport:with MICHAEL KARIATI
THE decision by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) to call off all Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier matches pencilled for August and September might not be the best news for lonely Warriors coach Zdravko Logarusic, but good for Zimbabwe as a nation.
Since his appointment on January 29, Logarusic has been stuck in his apartment in Harare and has not had the chance to meet either his players or his assistants Lloyd Chitembwe and Tonderai Ndiraya to plan for future engagements.
In fact, in Zimbabwe, Logarusic knows too well only those who appointed him at the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) and the few journalists who have taken their time to sit down with him for an interview.
His chance of meeting the Warriors for the first time was lost when the Confederation of African Football (Caf) called off the Africa Nations Championships (Chan) which were scheduled for Cameroon from April 4 to 25.
This was quickly followed by the cancellation of Zimbabwe’s back-to-back Afcon qualifiers against African champions Algeria which had been pencilled for March 23 and 29 before being postponed due to the threat of the coronavirus.
That Caf decision also swept away Zimbabwe’s June 6 Afcon qualifier away to Botswana which would have set the tone for the remainder of the Warriors 2021 Afcon journey.
After the cancellation of the matches by Caf, the Zimbabwean government and other governments all over the world made the decision to stop all sporting activities in order to minimise the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid 19.
Caf have not given any idea as to when Afcon qualifiers or continental football would resume but whatever the case is, this is, to some extent, to Zimbabwe’s benefit.
For Logarusic, in particular, the cancellation of the Afcon fixtures could be a blessing in disguise, which gives him the chance to know his players well and their style of play better.
The coach has come out in the open that the Warriors are not like the Olympic Games where participation only is an honour, but a team where a position is on merit.
The former Go Mahia and AFC Leopards gaffer has made it clear that he is going to pick up his team on current form rather than on reputation or past performances.
He is happy to know that most of the Zimbabwean players have returned to action in Europe — Costa Nhamoinesu at Sparta Prague, Marvelous Nakamba at Aston Villa, Tendai Darikwa at Nottingham Forest, Teenage Hadebe at Yeni Malatyaspor and Macauley Bonne at Charlton Athletic, — while Tino Kadewere is waiting on the wings for his chance at Lyon.
Football is also returning to South Africa where the majority of Zimbabwe’s top players are based. This gives the Warriors an advantage over Zambia and Botswana should Afcon return in October.
Most of the Botswana and Zambia national team players are drawn from their domestic leagues which are still on suspension due to the coronavirus.
So when Afcon returns, — probably in October — the Warriors would be at an advantage over the Zebras and the Chipolopolo in terms of match fitness and match practice.
That is not the end of it. This period also presents Logarusic with the chance to draw up potential warm-up opponents and find out from Zifa which ones they are comfortable with financially.
It would be good to see warm-up matches organised in advance instead of the past practice of picking up Zambia or Tanzania every time there was space for an international friendly match.
The fact remains that Zimbabwe has too many footballers scattered across the globe and as a new coach, Logarusic will surely need a number of serious friendly matches to come up with the best team Zimbabwe can offer.
Apart from building the team itself, there are other extra benefits that have been brought about by this Afcon fixture postponement.
The time given affords Zimbabwe the chance to complete renovations at the National Sports Stadium in order for Zimbabwe to present a strong case to Caf on the capacity of the stadium to host international matches.
Sport and Recreation Commission supremo (SRC) Prince Mupazviriho tells us that the stadium is almost ready except for one or two things, “suitable turnstiles and bucket seats”, which need to be fitted.
We have heard that story before and twice the stadium was declared not fit for use by Caf despite work having been done. The truth is that only when the ground has been approved for use will we say the job was done.
Surely, Zimbabwe cannot afford to lose their hosting rights for both the 2021 Afcon and the 2022 World Cup qualifiers since this has a huge bearing on both Zifa’s finances and the Warriors’ chances of qualifying for the finals.
African football has it on record that teams that win all their home games usually qualify for major international tournaments and Zimbabwe cannot allow that home advantage to be taken away so easily.
The Warriors have Afcon home matches against Algeria and Zambia as well as 2022 World Cup games against Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa, all of which they need to win.
Playing in a foreign country does not only mean losing the opportunity of watching the Warriors right on our doorsteps, but would also mean forking out a lot of money in foreign currency to travel to watch the team in action.
Should that happen, Zifa would also need a lot of money for airfares and also to ensure that the Warriors are well looked after in foreign lands to avoid throwing the name of the country into the mud.
The SRC has made us believe that everything is moving in the right direction. That is the story we want to hear. However, only when there are no stories that we still need to do “this and that” will we say the mission has finally been accomplished.
The hope is that when Caf finally comes up with the dates for the next 2021 Afcon fixtures, the National Sports Stadium would be ready to host the best African football has to offer.
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