Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
THE Warriors’ nightmarish 2016 African Nations Championship finals adventure, which ended after just two games — without even a goal to show for it — has once again exposed the team’s shortcomings when it comes to scoring goals on the big stage.
Callisto Pasuwa and his men crashed out of the 2016 CHAN finals on Saturday after losing their second Group D game on the trot, conceding another goal from the left channel of their defence after failing to deal with yet another ball swung in from a free-kick, in a 0-1 loss to Mali.
Needing, at least, a point to remain in the race for a place in the quarter-finals, the Warriors — as they did in the first game against Zambia — created the better chances, but a pathetic conversion rate saw them fire blanks and then, a fatal lapse of concentration at the back, gave Mali a victory their efforts barely deserved.
That defeat confirmed the Warriors’ exit from a tourney where they were one of the seeded teams, owing to a good run in the previous CHAN finals where they reached the semi-finals and marked the first time, since this tournament was unveiled in 2009, they crashed out after just two games.
In the first CHAN finals in 2009, the Warriors were still alive, in the battles for a place in the knock-out stages, when they played their final group game against a Libya where victory would have taken them into the semi-finals, in the days when only eight teams played at the CHAN finals.
However, the Warriors could only draw that game, once again firing blanks against Libya in a goalless draw in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, and they could only watch from home as two of their Group B rivals — Ghana and the DRC — who had both failed to beat Zimbabwe at that tournament, battled in the final.
Even in the second CHAN finals in 2011 in Sudan, the Warriors still had a chance of making the quarter-finals, should they have won their last game against South Africa, but a 1-2 defeat at the hands of Bafana Bafana ended their quest for honours.
Three years later, at the 2014 CHAN finals, the Warriors might have failed to win their first two group games, which ended goalless, but they went into their third game knowing that victory would take them into the quarter-finals and a 1-0 win over Burkina Faso, courtesy of a Masimba Mambare header, delivered the ticket into the last eight.
However, for the first time at the CHAN finals, the Warriors go into their third group game tomorrow with only pride to fight for after the back-to-back losses against Zambia and Mali sealed their fate with elimination confirmed after two days of action in Rwanda.
As the nation continues with the painful process of surveying the wreckage of the Warriors’ meltdown in Rwanda, what is very clear is that the absence of gunslingers, forwards who can deliver at least 20 goals per season, has been our biggest let-down when it comes to the CHAN finals.
A number of golden chances were created, and blown away, by the Warriors’ forwards in Rwanda while, in sharp contrast, the Zambian duo of Christopher Katongo and Isaac Chansa only needed one chance to get them goals against Uganda and Zimbabwe and the six points that swept Chipolopolo into the quarter-finals.
While Pasuwa suggests that the “lack of preparations”, including a friendly match, in the countdown to the Rwanda adventure might have haunted his men, the reality is that strikers like Katongo and Chansa are not created in friendly matches.
These are natural-born scorers and that we are the only team yet to score a goal in Rwanda isn’t just a coincidence, but a disease that domestic football and all its experts who are involved in coaching the players at various levels, have failed to deal with since the turn of the millennium.
The statistics tell a grim story.
The Warriors have failed to score in their last four CHAN finals games going back to the 2014 CHAN semi-final against Libya. We have played in four CHAN finals, in the past half-a-dozen years and a poor return of just eight goals, in 14 games at that level, which translates to one goal every one-and-a-half hours of action, tells the story of our perennial struggles when it comes to scoring goals and this has turned into our Achilles Heel.
Two of those 14 goals have come from one individual, Philip Marufu, at the inaugural CHAN finals in 2009 while — although we have played at each and every CHAN finals — we haven’t seen any other Warrior scoring more than one goal at the finals.
In the group matches at the CHAN finals, we have only had five goalscorers — Marufu (2), Ovidy Karuru, Achford Gutu, Norman Maroto and Masimba Mambare — 11 matches spread over half-a-dozen years.
With Karuru, Gutu and Mambare clearly not in the group of players who can be described as out-and-out strikers, it means that only Maroto and Marufu have managed to find goals, in the group games at the CHAN finals, among the battery of out-and-out forwards we have thrown into the fray.
Even the Class of CHAN 2014, which set the benchmark for success by going all the way to the semi-finals, were not angels when it came to goalscoring with only one goal being scored by the Warriors, in their three group games, when Mambare headed home that goal against Burkina Faso.
The irony of it all was that Nigeria, in just one game at the 2014 CHAN finals, a 4-2 win over Mozambique, scored more goals than the Warriors did in their six games, three matches in their group and three other matches in the knockout stages. Mozambique, a team that lost all their three group games at the 2014 CHAN finals, even scored more goals in their three games than the Warriors in their six matches and Bernard Parker, who won the Golden Boot, scored more goals — in just three games — than the entire Warriors’ team in six matches in South Africa.
Warriors’ fans have been bombarding The Herald with messages following the team’s elimination and one of them felt that the media also did not play its part. “I think our journalists didn’t do their job because they viewed Pasuwa as an expert,” read one of the texts.
“Journalists never cried for the inclusion of certain players like Oba (Obadiah Tarumbwa), Chinyama (Takesure), Linyama (Sydney), Matawu (Clemence, who is injured), etc.
“Even the best coach might miss out on something very important and our journalists should point that out for him. But, in our case, no one ever questioned the selection of the team.”
Whether those players would have provided the solution, for a team short on prolific goalscorers, remains questionable and — as the Warriors have shown in the last six years — they lack a goalscorer they can bank on. Even the race for the domestic Golden Boot, where the winners usually end with less than 15 goals, confirms that.