IN the end, there was nothing — no fight and no bite, no defence and no offence, no spirit and only sterility, no spine and no shine, no life and just strife, a sense of helplessness, a degree of sadness, tears streaming down the eyes, the disbelief, a people united by grief.
When the end came, there was just darkness — no light and no sunlight, no hope and no smoke, no fire and just a group of guys who appeared to tire, not even a hint of a spark in our attack, the doom and the gloom, the excruciating pain as if we had all been hooked to a giant chain.
And, this all felt like Armageddon — the end of the road, a catastrophic and extremely destructive battle that had brought us to the end of our world and dragged us, and dumped us, at the gates of hell, and all the suffering that comes with being cast away from paradise.
The singing had long stopped, the energy that had earlier fuelled it had long been consumed by the disaster that unfolded, a capitulation as bad as they come, a meek surrender that stunk so much it was a mockery of our very nicknames as never-say-die Warriors.
Where there had been life, there was now only strife, where there had been hope, there was now only hopelessness, where there had been excitement, there was now only disappointment and the light had long been replaced by the darkness of a never-ending night.
This, in more ways than one, felt so much like death — and, like zombies, we surveyed the wreckage of our annihilation on June 30, in a stadium called June 30, having been transformed into monsters which had been parachuted to a world where only pain and grief resided.
It was Sunday, last Sunday, D-Day for our coach named Sunday, it was June 30, at the June 30 Stadium, it was just after 11pm in Harare, it was also just after 11pm here in Cairo, a city that was starting to party again, after their Pharaohs won again, but — for some of us — it’s bustling life didn’t seem to mean a thing.
Our hopes had been shattered, our dreams had been destroyed, like zombies we looked for answers, anything to try and comfort us, anything to cheer our deflated spirits, but found none as the reality of this tragedy began to sink — that we had not only failed, once again, but we had also been humiliated in our hour of failure.
A 0-4 thrashing, two goals in the first half and two goals in the last half, was simply unbearable, especially given the way we had played with both spirit and courage in our tough test against the Pharaohs, as the world watched, giving ourselves a reason to feel proud, even in defeat, because we had run them close.
ZiKeeper, Eddie Sibanda, had played with authority, refusing to be swallowed by the moment, by the occasion, by the 80 000 Egyptian hearts desperate for him to make a mistake, crying out for him to be beaten by Mohamed Salah, wishing him that he fails.
There were 12 shots at his goal, including dangerous ones, but now and again he kept finding his agility at the right time, his timing at the right moment, a spectacular one-handed save here, a brave stop there, a fine effort here, a brilliant save there, his huge frame a reminder to the Pharaohs that they needed something special to beat him.
And, that’s exactly what happened when Trezeguet scored, the Flying Pharaoh robbing Knowledge Musona of possession, exchanging passes with a teammate, cutting inside, and then curling a beauty into the far corner for the only goal of the opening match of this AFCON finals.
Had ZiKeeper been Egyptian, it’s very likely all the 80 000 fans would have stood up to give him a standing ovation, when he was forced out of the game prematurely by injury, with about 10 minutes still to play, to be replaced by Elvis Chipezeze.
“Zimbabwe, good,’’ was trending among the Egyptian taxi drivers, once they established where you came from, proof that they had seen us battle like true Warriors, even though we had lost, a reminder they had found value in Devine Lunga’s defensive masterclass, in shutting out Salah.
They were probably not surprised to see us dominate the second match against Uganda, where Khama Billiat was unplayable and scored our only goal at this tournament, but they were probably surprised that Musona produced one of the worst misses in AFCON history, as that battle ended in a draw.
But, that was then, and this was now and the present was devouring our soul, the humiliation at the hands of the Congolese had destroyed everything good that we had done in the first two games and, now, we were on our way home, not as heroes, but as villains.
A CHAOTIC TOUR OF DUTY, A HUMILIATING ENDING TO A FORGETTABLE ADVENTURE
This was the AFCON campaign we all believed would be different, would show that we could compete against the very best, would see our so-called Golden Generation come of age and would see us even go, at least, as far as the quarter-finals with some fans even saying we could go all the way.
It’s difficult to blame them because they had seen this team win in Kinshasa, where few teams manage to do so, saw their team dominate the game in Brazzaville only to miss a number of chances in a game that ended 1-1 and had seen their time find a way to ensure none of the foreign teams scored at the National Sports Stadium.
The only goal we conceded, at our home ground, was an own goal by Teenage Hadebe against the DRC.
But, we also didn’t know, when we were breeding all those lofty expectations, that there would be chaos in our camp at this AFCON finals, that most of the time our boys would be fighting against ZIFA leaders over money, that they would threaten not to fulfil the first match, on the eve of that game.
That, by midnight, just hours before the match, they would be locked in meetings with CAF officials desperate to find a solution and that, by the time they took on the Pharaohs, they didn’t have the kind of rest needed, at this level of the game, to compete and their focus had been deflected.
Then, the problems returned ahead of the match against Uganda and returned ahead of the match against the DRC with ZIFA, at one stage, even telling the players that they were considering pulling out of the tournament, something which their PR machinery tried to deny, but something which they all know was the truth.
Amid all this chaos, it was difficult to expect the players to perform to the best of their abilities and it’s tragic it had to come to this, when the whole nation expected better, when their talents were good enough to have taken them beyond the group stage and a golden opportunity to shed off mediocrity was lost.
Some have blamed the players, for a good reason too, because — given the huge amounts they had been paid, including a cool US$5 000 after losing the game against Egypt, and a cool US$8 000 just for a draw against Uganda, they didn’t appear to have the moral legitimacy to keep fighting for money.
The more they kept doing so, when they were not winning matches, painted the narrative that they were only here for the money, and not to serve their nation, and cheer the spirits of their fans, by winning matches — something which even the hopeless Harambee Stars of Kenya had managed to do.
The timing of their industrial actions, which usually came on the eve of matches, appeared to provide a signal that they were desperate to hold the entire nation to ransom because they knew that something would have to give, no matter what, since they were holding the aces.
But, the more that they didn’t win matches, the more they failed to convert some clear-cut chances, the more they huffed and puffed without any dividends to justify why they were getting all that money, to show they deserved that loot, kept painting a bad picture of them.
By the time they were preparing for the final game against the DRC, it was very clear they had lost the support of the most important constituency back home, their fans, who were disappointed to read, now and again, that more than US$15 000 had been paid to the players, but they only had a point to justify such expenditure.
But, ZIFA also need to take a critical look at themselves in the mirror because they failed terribly on this one and created a monster which they failed to control and, critically, came up with a payment structure that appeared to reward mediocrity and also take away the inspiration to win matches.
The pathetic contracts they drew up with the players were at best amateurish and, at worst, documents that were against the spirit of encouraging the fight to win matches — which is what matters here, which is what serious teams come to do here, which is what serious players come to do here and which is what serious associations encourage here.
How could the association, in their wisdom, or lack of it, come up with a contract that guaranteed the players a cool US$15 000 each just for making an appearance here, at an average of US$5 000 per each game in appearance fees, if the motive to come here was to do well and try and win the AFCON finals?
How could ZIFA come up with contracts that guaranteed the players, and their coaching staff, enough money to go back home smiling, US$15 000, even in the event that they didn’t win any match here if the mission, as they tell us, was always to try and win this tournament?
Given the first game was on June 21 and the last one was on June 30, can ZIFA really justify that nine days — split over just three games — could be rewarded with a cool US$15 000 jackpot, even if the team didn’t win any match?
How could a draw, just one point, be rewarded with a US$3 000 bonus when the objective should be to try and win matches?
What ZIFA should have done was to peg an appearance fee at the lowest possible mark and then dangle the carrot that, should the Warriors win a game, then they could give them as much as, for example, US$7 000 each or US$10 000 each, to encourage the players to strive to win.
THE MATCH-FIXING ALLEGATIONS WHICH APPEAR LIKE A SCRIPT FROM A JAMES BOND MOVIE
Every day that has passed, since that Madagascar newspaper came up with a report — which torched a storm — claiming Moise Katumbi allegedly bribed Zimbabwe goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze ahead of the DRC game, the allegations have lost the substance they appeared to carry on day one.
Of course, in an era of social media judgment, which is harsh, the Warriors have been given a hiding even when, if one reads the original Malagasy newspaper report that started all this controversy, nowhere does one find claims that the entire team was allegedly bribed to throw away the match.
Understandably, in a country where emotions have been running high, after that humiliation at the hands of the DRC, a lot of stuff can be taken as gospel and there is always a search for victims.
We carried the report from Madagascar, just like many news outlets across the continent, because we didn’t want to be accused of trying to conceal information which was, clearly, in the interest of our readership and, at all times, we made it clear that this was what was being alleged on the Indian Ocean island.
Critically, we also sought the comment from CAF, not once, not twice, but on numerous occasions and never did we make a pronounced judgment that our players had acted immorally and when the holes started appearing in the case, we reported it accordingly.
What I couldn’t understand, from the word go, was how someone so wealthy like Katumbi, with scores of aides, could personally take part in such a shameless exercise, as alleged by that Madagascar newspaper, considering the huge risks to his reputation and standing.
For goodness sake, this is a man who wanted to be President of the DRC, and he is not the kind of man who sneaks into hotel rooms and coerce players to do this and that.
I have followed the way George Chigova has been slaughtered on some social media handles, even by some who should provide leadership, with outrageous claims that he faked injury so that Chipezeze would be the one to go into goal for the plot to be fulfilled.
I’m not King George’s lawyer, but I have a serious problem with a constituency that celebrates him as a hero, when he saves penalties in the shoot-outs, and then turns against him, by claiming he faked injury, when they can’t substantiate such claims that he did so.
For them, it’s fine for Chris Smalling to be injured, during warm-up, and be replaced before the Champions League match against Valencia last season and it’s fine for Laurent Koscielny to be injured, during warm-up, and be replaced before the FA Cup game against Blackpool in January this year, but it’s fishy for King George to do that.
From a distance, God is watching us.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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