AFTER the heights we scaled at the 2014 African Nations Championship finals in South Africa, where our Warriors reached the semi-finals and finished as the fourth best team at the tournament, there is no masking the fact that the team’s early elimination in Rwanda was a huge disappointment.
Being knocked out in the first round, losing two of our three group matches, failing to win even one match, scoring just one goal and conceding in every match, represented a journey back into the darkness for a team that had seen the light just two years ago.
We understand the frustrations that the people of this football-loving nation are having after watching their toothless Warriors huff and puff in Rwanda, where we were one of the seeded teams, fluffing countless chances and losing to Zambia and Mali on the way to an early elimination from the 2016 CHAN finals.
The team of 2014 showed us that we had evolved from a nation that was only content with making up the numbers, at such tournaments like the CHAN finals, into one that could compete for honours by setting a benchmark for a successful adventure.
What the fans expected was to see the team that went to Rwanda, having been inspired by those who represented us with distinction in South Africa, and having learnt from whatever mistakes we made there which, ultimately cost us silverware, to go all the way to the final and even bring the trophy home.
There is no reason for us to believe that this was Mission Impossible because, as shown by that team which was in South Africa, this can be done and that Ian Gorowa and his men were only denied a chance of fighting for the trophy by a cruel penalty shootout loss to eventual winners Libya, showed that we have the capacity to also win such tournaments.
But we watched, in disbelief, as our Warriors turned themselves into experts of demonstrating how best not to score goals, at this level of the game, missing a glut of chances against Zambia, before falling to a 0-1 loss, and then squandering a host of opportunities, in another 0-1 defeat at the hands of Mali that sealed our fate.
Given that our Warriors had been promised that they could share the $750 000 prize money for winning the tournament, should they have brought the trophy home, should have been inspirational enough for a team that has always fought battles with the ZIFA leadership when it comes to getting what they believe is due to them.
And they were promised, too, at that grand send-off ceremony that they would be rich pickings from the Government should they represent the country well in Rwanda with the ultimate mission being to win the tournament and cheer the spirits of the football loving people of this country.
That our boys failed is not even debatable; but what is important is that we pick up some lessons from this tournament, that we don’t bury our heads in the sand and, as we go forward, that we can do better than what we saw in Rwanda in the tougher, and more prestigious tournament, like the 2017 Nations Cup where we have had a good start in the qualifying process.
There is no question that we need thorough preparations for such big games and it’s a shame that our Warriors were thrown into the deep end in Rwanda without even playing one friendly international where the coach would have picked up their weaknesses, and their strengths, in a competitive match situation.
Callisto Pasuwa would probably have seen it, in a competitive friendly match, or matches, that Francisco Zekumbawire was certainly not our first-choice centre forward, that there were serious shortcomings about his attack, that Ronald Chitiyo’s form has dipped so much he is short on confidence and that Joel Ngodzo is certainly his best creative midfielder.
He would have picked it out that Tatenda Mukuruva is clearly, on the big stage, a better goalkeeper than Donovan Bernard, that there were fatal flaws in the defensive abilities of Ocean Mushure, that his men should do better when they are defending set-pieces and that their concentration should not only be limited to the first half.
Instead of concentrating on these important issues, we had that distraction of Pasuwa being fired, in an ill-timed decision by the ZIFA Board, and then being reinstated, and then the saga about his contract took centre stage, with the coach demanding $7 000 while his employer said they could only afford $3 000.
Even today, although we have a big game against Swaziland coming in March, Pasuwa’s fate with the Warriors remains hazy because he is still not contracted to ZIFA and that is not healthy for our preparations for a match that we need to win to keep alive our hopes for a place at the 2017 Nations Cup finals.
There is no question that we have the players who can take us to Gabon because, after all, Knowledge Musona is doing very well at his base in Belgium, where he is in the running for the Golden Boot, while Khama Billiat has been the standout player in the South African Premiership this season.
But, for us to get the best from our players, we need to ensure that our house is in order and the preparations for the game against Swaziland should start now, with ZIFA and Pasuwa ending their impasse over a contract, and — if need be — our technical team being strengthened because, as we observed, the coach’s assistants are not adding a lot of value to this team.