Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
PRESIDENT Mugabe feels the Warriors should be pained by letting down Southern Africa when they crashed at the group stages of the 2017 Nations Cup finals.
He believes it was a tournament where Zimbabwe could have done better had the Warriors found the character to win their opening Group B match against Algeria.
Callisto Pasuwa’s men were the only Southern African representatives in Gabon but suffered a meltdown as they became the first troops of Warriors to fail to win a match at the AFCON finals.
They picked just a point from their three games, to finish bottom of their group, after conceding the highest number of goals in the first phase of the tournament.
Traditional regional football heavyweights Zambia and South Africa, who have won the Nations Cup in the past, fell by the wayside in the battles for a place to qualify for the 2017 AFCON finals.
With the Warriors targeting, at least, a quarter-final place, their elimination at the group stages, without a victory to their credit, came at a huge price with Pasuwa’s contract as the team’s head coach being terminated in the brutality of the painful post-mortem that followed their Gabonese adventure.
The Warriors were just eight minutes from causing the first biggest upset of the 2017 AFCON finals, in their opening Group B showdown against Algeria, only for 2016 CAF African Footballer of the Year, Riyadh Mahrez, to grab a very late equaliser and force a share of the spoils at the Stade de Franceville.
The goal shattered the Warriors’ spirits, with the players heads notably dropping as they battled the demons inflicted by a lost opportunity to start their campaign with a bang, and they leaked half-a-dozen goals in their following two defeats at the hands of Senegal and Tunisia to crash out of the group stage, for the third straight time, at Africa’s biggest football festival.
President Mugabe feels it would possibly have been a different adventure for the Warriors in Gabon had they held on to their 2-1 lead, in that opening match against Algeria, and defeated the Desert Foxes with the confidence generated from that possible victory blowing winds in their sails in their Gabonese adventure.
In his traditional interview with ZBCTV to mark his 93rd birthday, President Mugabe said he felt the Warriors’ confidence dipped after their failure to collect maximum points against Algeria and they lost their way in their subsequent matches against Senegal and Tunisia.
The President, who said he didn’t support any of the local football sides, revealed he didn’t watch the two defeats suffered at the hands of the Lions of Teranga and the Carthage Eagles.
“Soccer? I thought you would ask me about the performance rather than which team I support,” the President said after being asked which was his favourite local team and also his views on the Warriors’ performance in Gabon.
“The losing (by the Warriors) surprised me after we had performed that well, reasonably well against Algeria but, also in that context I do not know why we couldn’t have managed to stick to the 2-1 score that was in favour of us, and we allowed Algeria to even score towards the end of the match.
“I think that is what brought in the loss of confidence, loss of spirit, hence the team became dispirited thereafter.
“The next matches where they got 0-0 (in terms of points earned), I never watched I was told about the results.
“The matches will be played again in the future. So, it’s not the end of everything but when you lose, in the context which you will have attracted the confidence of the whole of our Southern Africa, you have become the representative, really, of Southern Africa, then it must pain us.
“It must pain you because in a sense you have let down Southern Africa. But that’s to be accepted in sporting events, isn’t it? You win, you lose but, of course, you must not be losing all the time.”
President Mugabe said the country needed to develop its football but he questioned why FIFA said the Government should not intervene in the administrative affairs of the game when the sport’s leaders usually turned to the State with begging bowls to help them in their various programmes.
The Government injected $1 million into the Warriors’ Gabonese adventure with Pasuwa getting about $56 000, his coaching staff getting about $42 000 each while the players got about $28 000 each from the combined fund set aside for their 2017 Nations Cup campaign.
NetOne poured $250 000 into that campaign.
“We must develop our soccer well. I do not know what it is we must do,” President Mugabe said.
“On one hand, they say we must not interfere with the arrangements in our soccer teams, we must leave it alone but, on the other hand, they cry for help to the State, help us. So which is which?
“If we are to help them we must also expect good results, isn’t it? Kwete kungoti tibatsirei. Tikakubatsiraika tinenge tichiti tibatsireiwo nekuhwina.”
The President also spoke about ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa, who has now risen to become the COSAFA boss, describing the Harare businessman’s phenomenal rise in the leadership circles of regional football as a promotion.
Chiyangwa has invited FIFA president Gianni Infantino for a two-day tour of this country.
Infantino, who will be accompanied by FIFA secretary-general Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura — the first woman to become the second most powerful person in world football — is scheduled to arrive in Harare this evening.
“But I notice VaGushungo vakumusoro uko, vakabva kuno, VaChiyangwa, vakapromotwa,” President Mugabe said.
“He is up there. He is Southern Africa now, COSAFA.”
President Mugabe said he didn’t support any particular local football team, and was a fan of all the clubs, although his sons — Robert and Chatunga —were supporters of Zimbabwe champions CAPS United.
“Ah, I don’t support, I don’t support any team in particular, definitely, but my boys support, I think it’s CAPS, but I don’t support any,” said President Mugabe.
“I support all of them, when I watch, in the context of maybe Dynamos vs CAPS, I say good luck to the winners and hard luck to the losers. ‘You will do well next time,’ to the losers.”
The two Harare giants meet in the pre-season ZNA Army Charities semi-final showdown at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday in a battle that is likely to set the tone for what promises to be a bruising battle for honours this year.