IT was supposed to be the week we should have spent analysing that epic battle, in which our brave Warriors stood toe-to-toe against a herd of charging Elephants, in a fiery contest which ended all square, on a sun-soaked spring afternoon at Rufaro last Sunday.
A battle which, if it was a boxing showdown, would have been won by a majority decision by our gallant men, who inflicted more blows in a fight they dominated against gritty opponents whose tactical discipline, sheer strength and technical finesse shone brightly throughout the duel.
The week when we were supposed to celebrate a stellar performance by Costa Nhamoinesu, in the colours of his country, with the towering defender providing us with a reminder of days gone by when our defensive lines were patrolled by no-nonsense men of steel, who took no prisoners, when it came to representing their fatherland.
Men like Francis Shonhayi, a gentle giant who played the game with both power and intensity, Ephraim Chawanda, so powerful and talented they even named him the Rock of Gibraltar, a man born to be a leader and, under whose leadership, the Dream Team turned themselves into the darlings of a nation.
For years, we had waited for Costa to come home and play for his nation, and when it finally happened, we all left Rufaro feeling that it was worth the long wait as the lanky defender impressed with a commanding show, in the centre of our defence, which was simply brilliant.
He charmed us with his commitment to serve his nation, when he used his money to fly back home from his base in the Czech Republic, and when it was time for the big battle, he didn’t let us down, with a performance that was rich in quality, which oozed class, and should have been rewarded by more than just a point.
For an hour-and-half, he provided us with the assurance that we had a pillar of strength that we needed to defend our goal, on a day when ‘keeper Washington Arubi was suffering from a rare bout of nerves on his return to the big stage after years on the sidelines, and the more that Costa shined, the more that we fell in love with him.
This was a calm and polished defensive show, quality stuff that showed us he has gained immensely from playing on the big stages of the uefa Champions League and Europa Cup with his Czech team, and we all felt proud that he was one of us as he produced a performance that we expect from those who are Warriors.
Of course, he came face-to-face with the chaos that usually stalk our preparations for such big matches, something that should have been strange for one now used to the tranquillity and professionalism of how they prepare for their matches at his European club, and that he was one of those detained by the owners of the lodge where they were camped, as they demanded their payment from ZIFA, was unfortunate.
But, to his credit, he didn’t say that I won’t come back to this chaos and, instead, he declared that, when the next assignment for the Warriors comes around, in March next year, he will be one of the first guys on the plane, even if it means that he pays for his ticket again, to come back and represent his motherland.
He must have been touched by the raw emotion that he saw at Rufaro on Sunday, thousands of his fellow countrymen and women who packed the old stadium and turned it into a cathedral of dreams, and how they loved him, how they cheered every move that he made and how they all felt honoured that he was wearing that shirt.
You can’t buy such things and that’s the beauty of representing one’s country, and doing a good job of that, because there is nothing as good as having an entire nation loving you, an entire stadium united in cheering you and making you feel special and not even the uefa Champions League can provide that.
This was supposed to be the week that we cheered the goal-scoring instincts of Knowledge Musona, our talisman, who — when we needed a hero once again to pluck us from a very delicate position — he rose like a phoenix and delivered for a country that has always counted on him to do just that whenever he wears our golden shirt.
He might have been off colour in Malawi, and Pasuwa was right to pull him out, but now that he has found a home in Europe where he is wanted, and has started scoring regularly for his Belgian club, we are beginning to see the old Smiling Assassin, our golden boy who has always delivered the goals when we needed them, and his strike on Sunday was very, very special.
The way he timed his run to perfection, coming in from wide on the right channel, was simply brilliant and so good he even deceived the entire Guinea bench, which felt that he had strayed into an off-side position when, in fact, he hadn’t, not by a country mile, because there was a man on the other side of the action who was covering him.
Then, with the flag having stayed down, time appeared to stand still as Musona faced the ‘keeper, thousands of hearts inside the stadium beating faster as the level of expectation rose, millions of people watching the game live in their home praying that he delivers, and 14 million of his people — at that moment — praying as a united nation that he doesn’t fail.
The first touch, to control the ball, was beautiful, the second move, to try and find the opening, required his genius and then, without breaking stride, he stroked the ball beyond the ‘keeper and we had equalised, suddenly, Rufaro exploded, having waited for more than half an hour for that moment, having spent more than half an hour cursing the football devils that had ensured that the ball strike Arubi’s leg and bounce kindly for that striker after just three minutes, and wondering whether this bogey team would inflict another defeat on us.
This was supposed to be the week when we celebrated a tough point against a very, very competitive Guinea side, which kept us in the race for the 2017 Nations Cup finals given that we are joint leaders in the group, with three games coming that we should, if we get our house in order, win and — as they will always tell you — 13 points get you to the Nations Cup, no matter what happens.
That is the number of points that Guinea and Malawi can end up with, that is if they win all their remaining matches, and since they are playing each other home and away, that won’t be possible to one of them, that is the number of points that took us to our first Nations Cup finals in 2004 and that could be the magical number that could take us there again when this campaign ends next year.
THE IRONY OF CURSING WASHINGTON ARUBI
But, because we are a people who seem to love to specialise in looking at the negatives, a lot of us have spent the week abusing Washington Arubi, calling the ‘keeper all sorts of names, simply because he had a bad game on Sunday and, in a decisive moment, he let his team and his nation down when he failed to control that back pass and we conceded a goal.
Suddenly, simply because he made a big mistake, we now call him Judas Iscariot, we are saying that he should never be allowed anywhere near the national team again, we question why Pasuwa trusted him to guard goal when the young ‘keeper Tatenda Mukuruva, who was around after Dynamos withdrew him from the Africa Games team, was not tasked with that job.
Yes, Arubi, for a ‘keeper of his quality, should have dealt with that back pass better, there was no need to try the fancy things of controlling the ball on a surface that is wearing off and where the ball now bounces awkwardly, and given that this was just the beginning of the game, where the players were trying to get into the groove, he should have just done the simple thing of blasting it away.
But no one questions why Danny Phiri decided, against all conventional wisdom, to pass the ball to his ‘keeper at that pace, on that tricky surface, and so early in the game, and when he wasn’t under any pressure to do that given that he could just have turned and blasted the ball into touch.
Very few are questioning why Phiri, given his experience, decided against doing what players are usually taught, when playing the ball back to your ‘keeper, that you don’t hit it directly into goal but you pass it away from goal so that, in the highly unlikely event that something horrible happens, it becomes a corner kick and not a goal.
But that is besides my point.
Why should we, the very nation which celebrated three points from our first game against Malawi in these qualifiers, which were gifts from monumental blunders from our opponents, now find it unacceptable that one of our players can make a costly mistake in a game that we didn’t lose?
The first goal that we scored in Blantyre, courtesy of Cuthbert Malajila, was because of a horrible mistake by a Malawian defender, who somehow completely missed what should have been a routine clearance, and the ball felt into the path of our striker and, boom, we were ahead.
The winning goal that we got in Blantyre was even more comical as, somehow, the Malawian ‘keeper misjudged the ball, floated from distance by Khamaldinho and, boom, we had won the match and we were all celebrating even as our hosts were cursing their fate.
Now, if we accepted that these things happen, and celebrated that victory, why should we spend the entire week cursing one of our own, simply because he made one costly mistake, as if we are the only ones whom the football gods should favour all the time?
Yes, Sekuru Gudo, as Arubi is known by his fans, got it wrong and, to his credit, he apologised for his monumental error but this happens in football and Itumeleng Khune, the Bafana Bafana ‘keeper, even made a worse mistake as his team crashed to a 1-3 defeat in Mauritania.
We didn’t fail to get all three points because Arubi blundered, early in the match, we failed because when we got the chances that could have made a difference, and Malajila knows that he blew a golden one when he somehow headed wide with an open goal, we didn’t take them.
But, for a team which, after two games was out of the 2015 Nations Cup finals last year, without a win, we should be celebrating that, after two games of the 2017 Nations Cup finals, we are joint leaders in our group, with four points, and that is an improvement and rather than condemn our boys, we should be supporting them so that come March they will do even better.
Given what they went through, in the build-up to that game, getting a point against our bogey side, who beat us on their last visit to Harare, was not a bad result guys.
SADLY THE HEADLINES HAVE ALL BEEN ABOUT ZIFA
But how do we move forward, as a team, when ZIFA are presenting the kind of income/expenditure statements that our football leaders published this week, which are at best, an insult to all the people who converged at Rufaro, including some who ended up being frustrated at the gates they had to go back home, and at worst, a fraudulent act?
For ZIFA to say that they suffered a loss, in that game, when they are using some of the proceeds to settle their old debts, and then — against all conventional accounting systems — smuggle those figures onto the balance sheet, for Sunday’s match, to give an impression that there was a deficit, is simply incredible.
The income/expenditure figures are specifically about Sunday’s game and when you tell the nation that you paid $3 000 for a bus hire, you can’t then change the goalposts when it is exposed that, in fact, those who gave you the bus did not ask for a payment and they didn’t only give you a bus, they gave you their drivers and fuel, too.
You can’t say that because it has been proved that Herentals College did not bill you anything, for the two buses that they donated for a national cause, you now tell us that the $3 000 for bus hire was for a previous transporter that you dealt with who had nothing to do with Sunday’s game.
Who is that transporter and why is that debt not mentioned on the updated list of debts, which ZIFA produced in July, which we now have in our possession?
Why then was this expense a direct one, related to Sunday’s game, when — if we are to give you the benefit of doubt — it’s for a transaction that happened a long time ago?
And why do you declare that Sunday’s game was a loss when some of the expenses, as you now tell us, were not related to that game?
Because of that, no one now trusts anything about those figures, even the number of people who are said to have entered the stadium.
The media believe that they have picked something that can provide interesting copy for them and we are likely to hear a lot about this story, for days, if not weeks to come, but it’s unfortunate that, in the week that we should have been celebrating the exploits of a fellow called Costa and the return to form of our Smiling Assassin, the back pages are again full of the wild events from 53 Livingstone Avenue.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on United !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(Too bad Chicharito is gone)
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