FIVE days ago, the Zimbabwe Warriors played their final 2021 AFCON qualifier this year, in a 2-2 draw against African champions Algeria.
Our boys showed remarkable fighting spirit, to come back from two goals down, and get a point against the best national football team on the continent.
The Desert Foxes, led by the mercurial talents of Manchester City ace Riyad Mahrez, are now unbeaten in 22 competitive matches over a period of two years.
Along the way, they have beaten heavyweights like Nigeria (twice), Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire in recent months while holding a tough side like Mexico in a friendly international.
It’s a measure of the progress we have made, since the meltdown of that 0-4 humiliation at the hands of the DRC in our final 2019 AFCON finals group match, that we can now go toe-to-toe with the winners of that tournament.
There is even a feeling among many Zimbabweans that we should have won the match on Monday, and the chances we created would have been full value for that.
However, we will take the point, which keeps our fate in our hands and it means if we beat Botswana in our next match, in March, and Zambia fail to win against the Desert Foxes, we will have secured a place at the next Nations Cup finals.
This is important because it will be the first time we would have made it to three consecutive AFCON finals.
And, after the chaos which blighted our last appearance in Egypt last year, we feel we still have a lot to prove, and show the world who we really are, at this level of the game.
Defender Tendayi Darikwa, one of our outstanding Warriors during the two matches against the Desert Foxes, has even suggested that we should now be targeting getting to the 2022 World Cup finals.
We agree with him, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be dreaming big, and if we are good enough to compete against the African champions, we can have a real crack at getting to the World Cup finals.
What is undeniable is that we have a solid team, we might not have superstars like Mahrez, but the sum total of the capacity of our boys makes us a dangerous outfit.
Where we need to improve is how we prepare for these huge assignments and our preparations, ahead of the match in Algiers, were not what is expected at this level.
We didn’t give our new coach the support he needed, the chance to really assess his troops and to come up with the combinations that could have suited his game plan.
It’s an area that we have to address and that a team like Algeria had to play Nigeria and Mexico, just to prepare for their battles against us, show the value that we should attach to our preparations.
We also need to deal with the chaos in this our goalkeeping area because a team without a trusted goalminder, no matter how good we are, can never be successful.
Having said that, we also want to salute the people at ZIFA, who usually get little credit for the work they put in, and we have been regular critics of some of their decision makings.
What is not in question is that Felton Kamambo and his people at ZIFA did well, in terms of bringing our boys home for these two battles, without the usual chaos that mar such assignments.
It’s not an easy time to sort out travel arrangements for players dotted all over the world and get them in one place to fly for battles across Africa.
But, to their credit, Kamambo and his crew found a way to deal with it, without the hitches we normally see in their arrangements, and all our men were home, ready for the battle.
The decision to charter a plane to Algiers, even though it came at a huge cost, was the correct one because traveling across the continent, in these Covid-19 times, is difficult.
Yes, a number of areas still need improvement, but we don’t believe in just criticising holders of public offices for the sake of just piling on the criticism.
There are times when we have to give them credit, when they have done well, and the ZIFA officials deserve a pat on the back for the way they organised the two matches against the African champions.
Unlike the chaos that we saw, when we were preparing for our friendly international against Malawi, this was different and many of the players that we targeted, for these two assignments, came back home to fight for their country.
Maybe, it’s the presence, within the ZIFA ranks, of the general manager of the national teams, Wellington Mpandare, whom they appointed, after the mayhem which blighted our preparations for that friendly against the Flames.
Mpandare is a man who has earned his stripes, when it comes to making such arrangements, given he has been the team manager of the Warriors for some time now.
He wasn’t part of the ZIFA system, ahead of our friendly against Malawi, as the association were still involved in the search for the best possible individual to assume that role.
Our Warriors are our flagship sporting ambassadors, their appeal, among Zimbabweans, is widespread, and those fans simply want to see their national football team doing very well.
They know that we have quality, as a team, and can compete against some of the best nations on the continent.
That’s why it’s imperative that ZIFA continue to ensure that the team gets the best possible preparations for such national assignments.