THEY might have been images plucked from the archives, but when SuperSport decided to broadcast them this week, as part of their special countdown to the 2016 CHAN finals, the sights and sounds from Cape Town and Mangaung, two years ago, still sent shivers down the spine.
And, suddenly, it looked like it was all happening again.
Especially that epic battle against Libya, for a place in the 2014 CHAN final — two hours of an intense duel that produced no goals, the penalty shoot-out drama, the tension, the uncertainty, the grand expectations, the explosive pressure.
A rollercoaster ride that took us into hell, briefly dragged us back to the gates of heaven, and for a fleeting moment we could touch the Promised Land, everything that our hearts desired, before it all exploded in front of us, as we were eventually dumped in hell.
Let me take you back to the drama.
We take the first penalty and Eric Chipeta scores, and 14 million hearts explode in joy, relieved he has converted, but our advantage is soon blown away as Abushnaf makes it all square.
Danny Phiri scores again, and we dare to dream again, but Al Ghanodi reminds us that we are in for a battle royale as he converts his penalty to make it all square again.
Then, the torture begins.
Simba Sithole misses and 14 million hearts feel the dagger being plunged in, only for us to leap out of our seats again, as redemption comes swiftly, as Mahfad also misses and, once again, it’s back to square one.
Inside the packed main bar at Alex Sports Club, we have some special and noisy visitors, scores of parliamentarians who have been using our facilities to train for a football showdown against their counterparts from Zambia, and the politics that divide them is forgotten, in this united front, as they all sing one song for their beloved motherland.
Then there is silence, as Peter Moyo walks to take the next penalty, scores of hearts pounding inside that bar, eyes all fixed on the television sets, people expecting the best and knowing, fully well, that the worst could just be about to happen, too.
Moyo misses and, who said lightning doesn’t strike twice, and the non-believers among us start feeling it’s all over, especially after Fetori scores to give the Libyans the lead, and advantage, for the first time, in the shootout.
Why always us, they begin to ask.
Others have long been converted into zombies, they are talking to themselves, saying something that we can’t understand, consumed by their pain, and the questions fly — why should we be the ones that always end up on the losing side, who always endure this pain, whom the football gods appear to have cursed forever?
Some can barely watch, as Hardlife Zvirekwi comes up to take the fifth penalty, if he misses, it’s all over, and the Libyans won’t need to take their fifth spot kick, and only the brave ones now follow the drama, and when the CAPS United man scores, there is muted relief.
After all, the Libyans still have the advantage, and all they need is just to score the next penalty and it’s all over for us, an entire nation’s dreams buried in that little penalty area, sport —especially football, bloody hell — can be cruel, very, very cruel.
Can Big George, our goalkeeper, pull off just one more miracle, can he buy us more time, can he help us end this pain, and the majority of the people inside that bar have long stopped watching, resigned to their fate, when Chigova dives full stretch to his right and pulls off a superb save.
Pandemonium explodes inside the bar, and grown up men and women actually have tears in their eyes, overwhelmed by what they have just witnessed, or chosen not to witness, relieved that we have been handed a lifeline and bubbling with confidence that, this time, we won’t blow it.
But, sadly, that’s what happens next.
Milton Ncube shoots straight and the ‘keeper keeps his shot out with his leg, and we are back to the suffering, but — once again — Big George provides the salvation and, after six penalties either side, we are still all square, football, such a beautiful game, isn’t it?
Up steps Partson Jaure and, when he rolls the ball low into the far corner, to give us the lead again, we all dream again, as the pressure shifts back to the Libyans, who now have to score or we are through to the final.
Football, the most beautiful game in the world, has dragged us to hell, and then to the gates of heaven, and all the paradise that comes with that, in a matter of just a dozen or so penalty kicks, holding an entire nation hostage to the ebb and flow of the events in that little penalty area, making all of us patients of what they call high blood pressure.
Sadly, for us, Mohamed El Gadi keeps his cool and converts his penalty to bring Libya back on level terms, to extend the drama, and when Ali Sadiki misses the next spot-kick, it’s back to the tears and, this time, not even Big George can save us as the Libyan ‘keeper drills his kick home and sends his nation into the CHAN final.
The television cameras capture the sights of a nation in mourning, time has long stood still for those inside the stadium, many are crying, the brave ones are trying not to show the emotional wreckage they are carrying but their faces say it all, dejection, resignation as we all suffer together, our dreams shattered, our journey ended in such cruel fashion.
AS OUR BOYS PLUNGE INTO THE CHAN BATTLES ONCE AGAIN
On Tuesday our Warriors plunge into the CHAN battles once again, with a tough showdown against bitter rivals Zambia, and — if they needed any reminder of what this assignment means for this nation — then they only need to see the images of the collective suffering that we endured, as a country, that day in Mangaung, when our 2014 campaign came to a cruel ending.
Two years might have passed but the pain hasn’t faded away.
And, given that we are a country that rarely plays at the Nations Cup finals, having only been there just twice in 36 years at an average of once every 18 years, and a nation that now suffers the humiliation of being barred from playing in the World Cup qualifiers, CHAN is what represents the real deal for us.
Other countries might find this tournament unfashionable but we take it seriously because, more often than not, it offers us our best chance of playing at the finals of a major tournament and, as was the case in South Africa in 2014, our best hopes of silverware.
And football fans in this country, who have suffered for a very long time but, to their eternal credit, retained a loyalty to their team that can never be found anywhere in the world — if you doubt that ask yourself why we always have the highest average attendance figures in Africa for a national team that delivers very little — really love this tournament.
That’s why one of them, Alvin “Aluvha” Zhakata, who loves his Warriors just as much as he loves his Dynamos, on Wednesday undertook a punishing road trip from Harare to the Warriors’ base in Rwanda, travelling by a combination of buses and lifts, on a journey that will take him into Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi and then finally into Rwanda.
That Burundi has been engulfed in political strife for some time now, which makes this journey quite a dangerous one, hasn’t deterred Aluvha from risking it all so that when his Warriors plunge into battle on Tuesday, they will have someone, a voice from home, rallying behind them.
And Aluvha isn’t the only one.
Chris “Romario” Musekiwa also told me on Thursday that, should their plans to fly into Rwanda fail, his group of cheerleaders, who include the man they call Mbada, will also undertake the same journey, complete with its dangers, into the heart of the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, for them to be there with their Warriors when the battles begin.
Andy Hodges, the administrative architect who created the solid foundation on which CAPS United built their successful and spectacular campaign, for league title honours in 2004, and retained enough in their reserve to even win the championship again the following year — a stunning achievement for a club that had, until, then just won one such title in 24 years — won’t make such a road trip.
But the international banker, who is now based in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, wrote in this newspaper this week that, although he is very far away from home, where the television channels don’t broadcast tournaments like the CHAN finals, he will still be following every minute of the Warriors’ dance in Rwanda through the various online media platforms.
Halfway around the world, in England, it will be the same story for the likes of Marshall Gore and the gang — whose patriotism saw them travel to Egypt to cheer the Warriors at the 2006 Nations Cup finals and also fly to Italy to support Charles Manyuchi as he retained his WBC international welterweight title — will also be following the Warriors’ campaign ball-by-ball.
For some of us based in this country, the CHAN team is special because there is a familiarity to it, after all, these are the players that we see, week-in-and-week out in the domestic league, the guys who play for our local favourite teams, the fellows we see every day in the neighbourhood, whom we meet every week at our local churches and share the same pain we endure when the economy, as is the case right now, flies into turbulence.
We are a touch closer to them because we see them just about every weekend, up close and personal, at our stadiums dotted around the country, their images dominate the back pages of our newspapers, their stories — the good, the bad and the ugly — are what we read day in and day out.
Even when some of their harshest critics tell us that the standards of the domestic Premiership have taken a nose-dive and where there was quality, in the good old days of the likes of Joel Shambo, Stanley Ndunduma, Moses Chunga, Onias Musana, Robert Godoka, David Mwanza, Jonah Murewa and Peter Ndlovu, there is only mediocrity everywhere, we still remained loyal to their acts and our patronage doesn’t shrink.
We still go to Rufaro, Gwanzura, Barbourfields, Mandava and Sakubva, to watch them in action, and even though we agree that they are not playing the game at the same levels that we used to see from the yesteryear greats, we still watch them play, we still support them and we still idolise them as our stars we even honour 11 of them, every season, as our Soccer Stars of the Year.
Against that background, we believe that they also owe us a favour, on the occasions they come together as a national team, to pay us back for our endless love for them, for our patronage that makes them stars even when others say they are mediocre, for our loyalty that helps them make a living from playing the game in this country and all they need is just to do well at such tournaments like CHAN.
Is that asking for too much?
Of course not, and the ball is in their court and all we can do is just watch, cheer them, pray for them and hope that they can make us smile again.
AS THE LIBYANS SHOWED, CHAN CAN CHEER AND UNITE A NATION
Libya were supposed to host the 2014 CHAN finals but the political turmoil in that country forced CAF to move it to South Africa.
The civil war in Libya had meant that football had taken a back seat, with the national competition put on hold between 2011 and 2013, and the Mediterranean Knights arrived in South Africa terribly short on match fitness but fully aware of the massive responsibilities they carried for a nation in turmoil.
“(Coach Javier) Clemente’s boys were not out to secure a World Cup spot, or to impress agents and scouts, they were just fighting for their suffering country and people,” the Africanfootball.com website duly noted after the Mediterranean Knights sensationally won the 2014 CHAN tournament.
“Libya’s football team has managed to do what the politicians have spectacularly failed to do — bring the country together.”
And such is the power of football that the warring parties in Libya briefly laid down their arms as they cheered their footballers write one of the game’s greatest fairy tales.
The Libyans did it at our expense, and they reaped huge rewards for it, as their fragmented nation, for once since the political upheaval started, united for the cause of their country.
The Warriors Class of 2016 can also cheer a nation that has been battling its economic challenges and, as shown in that bar at Alex Sports Club when the Class of 2014 battled in that semi-final tie against Libya, they can also unite people from our political divides.
CHAN might have been cruel to us that afternoon in Mangaung but, generally, this is a tournament that has been very kind for us — qualifying for each and every final since this tournament was launched and, in the last one in South Africa, we even provided three of our players in Africa’s All-Star Team.
The skipper Partson Jaure and Kuda Mahachi were named among the Best XI players while Peter “Rio” Moyo made it among the substitutes and, at a time when our football was dominated by controversy, it was refreshing to read some positive stuff, in international newspapers, about our game.
And, the SuperSport commentator, on that day when fate cursed us and ensured that it was the Libyans, and not the Warriors, who would win that penalty shootout, aptly summed it all:
“It has been a rollercoaster ride for Zimbabwe, they have represented their Southern African region well, they have flown their national flag high,” he thundered.
What more can a team do for its nation?
That’s all that matters and our boys in Rwanda can draw some inspiration from the Class of 2014 and, while we agree that it will be tougher this time around, we have no reason to be afraid.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Rooneyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy (as in Chitiyo and not Wayne)
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