|Editorial Comment: Let’s urgently clean our poisoned football environment|
|Tuesday, 05 June 2012 00:00|
While the Warriors have never qualified for the World Cup finals, they rarely lose at home in the qualifiers for the biggest football festival on the globe and that our last home defeat came eight years ago, is testimony of how bravely we usually fight in our backyard.
That we have only lost just four World Cup games at home in 32 years, and our last loss in the opening World Cup qualifier came 23 years ago in Algiers, also hammers home the point of how we have courageously fought for our cause when it comes to this tournament.
Against that background, and the wave of expectation generated by our belief that the emerging crop of players which showed a lot of promise in the last failed Nations Cup qualifier would have matured into solid professionals, the result on Sunday is difficult to stomach.
We condemn, in the strongest terms possible, the way a militant section of the fans reacted by raining missiles onto the pitch and also stoning cars in the car parks outside the stadium. That some of our fans turned on coach Rahman Gumbo, long before the game had ended, insulting him and calling for the return of Norman Mapeza, was disgraceful because it all played into the hands of Guinea.
Gumbo has his shortcomings, like any other coach, and he will certainly need a lot of explaining why he has converted Esrom Nyandoro into central defence, why he sidelined Onismor Bhasera for 90 minutes on the bench and why he didn’t use the lively Oscar Machapa in attack, on the wing, where he plays at Moroka Swallows.
That he was forced to make a first half substitution, as Archford Gutu appeared lost in a new role where he had to partner Tinashe Nengomasha as a holding midfielder, given how deep he was playing, only confirmed how badly Gumbo set up his team.
But we should have known because by spending the whole week, with as many as 32 players where he only needed to choose 18, Gumbo certainly complicated his task because he concentrated on a lot of personnel, including many who were of no value to him in this game, at the expense of those that mattered.
However, to single out Gumbo would be unfortunate as our players also need to shoulder much of the criticism. They buckled under pressure and turned what should have been a routine win into a depressing defeat.
The chances that Knowledge Musona and Takesure Chinyama missed on Sunday, given the difficult opportunities they have both converted in the past, all made this a very miserable day for Zimbabwean football fans.
That Musona and Chinyama couldn’t do it, given that they are two of our forwards with the biggest profiles right now, one in Europe and the other wanted by all the top South African clubs, put into context the challenges that we face as a nation whenever we face teams from North and West Africa.
Somehow, we seem to lose the battle even before it has started, plunging into the fight burdened by a psychological barrier that we are playing against superior opponents and, in such moments of emotional crisis, we lose focus and everything that we had planned to do.
While our neighbours in Zambia showed us in February that there is nothing special about playing these West African nations, by beating both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in the semi-final and final to win the Nations Cup, we still wilt whenever we face these opponents.
You can see, clearly, that the mentality of our players, as they go into battle, is not the right one. Rather than express themselves, as they will probably do against Botswana, they withdraw into a shell and the mission turns into one where they are trying to make as few mistakes as possible.
Musona is our best player, and that can never be doubted, but on Sunday it was all too clear that he has suffered badly from a maiden season in Europe in which he has barely played a part at Bundesliga side, TSG Hoffenheim.
While moving to the Bundesliga was a bar raised in his career, the fact that he has barely played all season there, means that Musona lacked the cutting edge, which he usually possesses, and which can only come from the confidence generated by playing regularly.
For the first 45 minutes, Ovidy Karuru was lost, struggling to make any impact, and given the way Khama Billiat also struggled to impose himself on the game, maybe the psychological burden they carried during the dark days when they were accused of being part of the Asiagate match-fixing scandal, was still weighing on them.
It’s also regrettable that key members of the Zifa board chose to use the week leading into the game against Guinea to fight their petty boardroom wars and why everything coming from 53 Livingstone Avenue appeared to concentrate on their war against Benjani, instead of the big game against the West Africans, baffles the mind.
Given that we have three consecutive weeks of Warriors’ assignments, and countless weeks of fighting the politics, wouldn’t it have made sense, just for once, for Zifa to concentrate on what they were voted into office for rather than the boardroom battles that won’t bring us any medals?
It’s a tough game for us now and the players know that they let their nation down on Sunday, because this was an easy game to win, and Gumbo knows he could have done far better with his team selection.
But, until we acknowledge what Gumbo said in the run-up to this game that we have a poisoned football environment, where the focus is being thrown on issues that probably don’t matter, and find a solution to the differences that are stalking us, our Warriors will not get anywhere.