|Where do we go from here?|
|Tuesday, 19 June 2012 12:00|
AFTER converting one of their worst performances into a priceless victory on Sunday, the Warriors will have to free themselves from the quagmire of mediocrity to turn this painful 2013 Nations Cup campaign into a success story.
Rahman Gumbo and his men agonisingly flirted between light and darkness, rain and sunshine, success and failure, delirium and disaster for long periods at the National Sports Stadium, before eventually holding their nerve to emerge victorious.
That they scrapped through to the next qualifying round, on the away goals rule after the two legs against Burundi ended in a 2-2 deadlock, illustrated the thin line that stood between a lifeline and the end of the road.
To suggest that the Warriors were poor on Sunday would be an understatement — a word like horrible would probably fit the bill — but it is to their eternal credit that on one of their worst days, they managed to get the job done in very challenging conditions.
It’s an admirable quality, when a team plays so poorly as the Warriors did on Sunday, but still manages to win because it leaves the door open for us to believe that when they finally play as well as we want to them to do, they will be unstoppable.
In an African football environment that is changing rapidly, where the traditional lightweights like Burundi have suddenly found the strength to punch above their weights, the two-legged success story over the Swallows will have to be viewed in its proper context.
It was a victory worth the celebrations that followed it inside the National Sports Stadium and Gumbo will certainly argue that when his team played marginally well, against Guinea where they created a host of chances, they didn’t win the game.
He was thrown into the firing line because his mission was to win the game and not to write the script of a tragic comedy, where the team would charm its followers with the beauty of its game but ultimately come out with nothing after choking when it mattered most.
But as Zimbabwe braces for the next challenge, which will be bigger than the test that was posed by Burundi, the Zifa leadership needs to confront the brutal reality that the team has become very average and needs to be freshened up for battles that lie ahead.
One of the big decisions will centre on the coach.
Does Zifa stick with Rahman, now that he has done the preliminary work in the hardest way possible, or do they finally settle for a substantive coach who will not be stalked by the challenges he faces at his club?
Considering the environment that he has worked under, the unavailability of key players he might have wanted to use, the poor preparations as a cash-strapped Zifa struggled to foot the bill and a poisoned and deeply divided football family, Rahman did as well as he could have done in the circumstances.
But the era when national teams were coached by people on ad-hoc terms has long passed and that Rahman was weighed down by his commitments at FC Platinum, as much as the strain that comes with handling the Warriors, was all too obvious.
Ironically, in his last dance with the Warriors, Rahman had been full-time in the job and did commendably well before running into the trap of the Super Eagles who feasted on his men one unforgettable day at the giant stadium eight years ago.
Although he was coaching the Warriors full-time, the challenges that came with doing such a demanding job were clearly pronounced and how we believed he could do a better job, juggling his FC Platinum job with one coaching the national team, defies logic.
Back in 2004 we even had a stronger team, led by the legendary Peter Ndlovu, and they had smashed the barriers of history to become the first group of Warriors to qualify for the Nations Cup finals.
In Tunisia, at their first Nations Cup adventure, the Warriors didn’t even disappoint and, after a narrow loss to Egypt, a battling loss to defending champions Cameroon and a victory over Algeria, they came out of it all as the best of the debutantes.
Tinashe Nengomasha was a rising 21-year-old midfielder, wanted by a top French side after a solid performance in Tunisia, and there was so much going for that team, in all that wave of excitement triggered by our maiden qualification, it was an easier team to coach.
The current conditions, and the current side, all present a sharp contrast to the story in 2004 and where Gumbo, working on a full-time basis, had a bubbly team inspired by its date with history, he now had to work with a skeleton side in an atmosphere poisoned by conspiracy theories.
That Rahman managed to steer his ship through the storm and still keep alive the 2013 Nations Cup dream was in itself a huge achievement and the former Zimbabwe international deserves eternal credit for that.
But the next challenge separates the men from the boys and it would be advisable for Zifa to engage a full-time coach for the campaign.
That Zifa are in financial dire-straits isn’t a secret but all-weather sponsors like Mbada Diamonds, who have played a huge part just to keep this campaign alive, now need to come in and help the association fund the engagement of a substantive coach.
If Zifa decide to stick with Rahman, then so be it, but the Warriors will have to play far, far better than they did on Sunday.
When a team fails to string together three or four passes, on home soil, then you know there is something either structurally, or tactically, wrong with that team.
When a team stops expressing itself, simply because the players lose that freedom when they put on the national team jersey, then it is time to look into the mirror and look for solutions.
When the team’s heartbeat, the midfield, plays as badly as it has done in the last three matches, it turns strikers like Knowledge Musona into average individuals and questions have to be asked why, in such an environment, we tell players like Bradley Pritchard that he is excess to our requirements.
When the team’s home ground, which should be the theatre that gives it a psychological advantage over the opponents, turns into a hostile home with a terrible playing surface, then questions have to be asked about the wisdom of sticking to the giant stadium in its current horrible shape.
But, there is hope. What provides hope is the commitment of such players like Tapiwa Kapini, the experience of such players like Esrom Nyandoro, the quality of our talismanic forward Knowledge Musona and the emergence of fresh talent like Denver Muk-amba and Rodwell Chinyengetere.
If we get our cards right, we will not only qualify for the 2013 Nations Cup finals but, crucially, make a big impression in South Africa where an army of Warriors’ fans is waiting for their date with destiny.