Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
FORMER Zimbabwe skipper Benjani Mwaruwari has backed Callisto Pasuwa to rise from the nightmare of the doomed African Nations Championship campaign and lead the Warriors to qualification at the 2017 Nations Cup finals in Gabon.
The former Manchester City and Portsmouth forward, who played for the Warriors at the 2006 Nations Cup finals in Egypt, including captaining the team in one game, says the nation should keep believing in Pasuwa despite the failed CHAN campaign.
The Warriors, one of the seeded teams at the 2016 CHAN finals, crashed out in the first round after losing back-to-back games against Zambia, who were eliminated in the quarter-finals without even conceding a goal in regulation and extra-time, and Mali, who will play in the final.
Pasuwa’s men could have earned a face-saving and pride-restoring win in the final game against Uganda when they led for long periods, until the very last kick of the game gave the Cranes a 1-1 draw, while the Warriors finished bottom of the group.
That the Warriors’ conceded in all their three matches, and also let in all their goals from the blind side, has torched debate with some of the fans and analysts questioning Pasuwa’s pedigree to lead the team on such a grand stage.
His critics have also pointed to his poor record in the Champions League with Dynamos as proof that the gaffer was still a greenhorn on the international stage and isn’t the right coach to lead the nation against the heavyweights of the continent.
However, his supporters feel that it’s unfair to make Pasuwa the sacrificial lamb given that the team did not get the preparations that the coach wanted, which could have helped him to make big decisions on certain players, who failed him in Rwanda.
That the Warriors created a number of chances, which they failed to convert, in all their matches, has been used as a shield by Pasuwa’s supporters who say the domestic Premiership does not have sure-footed strikers with a very good conversion rate.
They say that the good form of our foreign-based forwards like Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona, who have already scored in the 2017 Nations Cup qualifiers, will give the Warriors the cutting edge, which the CHAN team missed in Rwanda.
Yesterday, Benjani, who also captained the Warriors in the 2010 Nations Cup/World Cup qualifiers, joined the debate and urged ZIFA to back Pasuwa and give him the support so that he completes the 2017 Nations Cup campaign.
“I am backing Pasuwa and I feel that ZIFA should lead the way by doing so because we can’t change a coach with about a month before we play our next game, which is the big game against Swaziland, and instead of debating about the future of the coach we should be looking at how best we can prepare for the two crucial matches,” Benjani said.
“I have played football at the highest level and I know that sometimes things just don’t go according to plan but you can’t fire a coach simply because he has lost two games at a tournament where only 16 of the 54 countries were playing.
“Manchester United lost a number of games recently but they stuck with their coach because they know that just changing coaches is not the answer and while we all want to win, we should know that it won’t always happen and the coach is not always the problem.
“I believe in Pasuwa because I have seen what he has done, working under very difficult conditions, and what we need to do as a nation is to ensure that we provide him with the right environment, and that includes good preparation, because there are no short-cuts in football.
“If we bring in a new coach, no matter how good that coach is, he will need time to know the players and for me that will be taking 10 steps backwards and that is why I feel that I should also speak in support of Pasuwa because continuity is important in football.”
Benjani, who is back in England after his bid to fight for the ZIFA presidency was derailed by the Constitution which does not allow those who are below 40 years to contest for the post, said he was ready to assist ZIFA is they approach him.
“I want to say that I have been impressed with the way that the new ZIFA Board have conducted business in the short time they have been in charge, concentrating on football rather than the politics of football, and I want them to remain focused on that,” said Benjani.
“The old ZIFA Board was only interested in politics and not the game itself and that was their downfall and I have spoken to Chiyangwa (ZIFA president) and told him that he is in the right direction and he should know that he will ultimately be judged by how our teams do in their international games.
“Even though I wanted to become the ZIFA president, I have told Chiyangwa that he can count on my support because, for me, what comes first is my country and if I can help I will always be ready to do that so that we improve as a football country.
“Qualifying for AFCON is important and I am also happy that the Young Warriors are being revived and will be entered into various competitions because without giving these young boys the exposure, we can’t be successful as a football nation.
“We all wanted to do well at CHAN but let’s forget that and move forward, concentrate on what we can change and not what has already happened and one of the most important things we need to do is to keep our coach and assist him so that he can deliver.”
ZIFA partner, Wicknell Chivayo, has also backed Pasuwa and urged the Association to provide him with the tools that he needs to be able to compete on the big stage.
Chivayo said he watched all the three CHAN games and was impressed by the performance of the Warriors and the coach cannot be blamed for their elimination.
The Harare businessman, who has bought a vehicle for Pasuwa, told The Herald that he expects ZIFA to deliver that car, a brand new double cab, on Monday to quash any speculation that the coach would be axed.
“The car should be handed over to the coach on Monday and that should be a big statement that he is not going anywhere and he has the support of this nation to lead our national team,” Chivayo said.