Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
TWENTY years after their battle ended in mayhem at the National Sports Stadium, claiming 13 lives of Zimbabwean football fans in a stampede, the Warriors and Bafana Bafana will again clash in a World Cup qualifier.
The draw for the 2022 World Cup group stage qualifiers was conducted in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, last night.
Fate has seemingly kept the two neighbours apart in World Cup battles since that dark July day in 2000 when their showdown ended prematurely under a cloud of tear smoke and pandemonium and death in the stands.
It remains the darkest day in the history of Zimbabwean sport.
Bafana Bafana, who had reached the 1998 World Cup in France, were battling for a second straight appearance at the global football showcase when they arrived in Harare at the turn of the millennium.
A double strike by Delron Buckley and some antics by the visiting players to try and mock the huge crowd provided the ingredients for a perfect storm, with the home fans responding with an assortment of missiles which were thrown onto the pitch.
Amid the chaos, the police fired teargas into the crowded bays, triggering a stampede, which after matters had calmed down, claimed the lives of 13 Zimbabwean football fans.
Alec Fidesi, then a six-year-old ardent Dynamos and Warriors fan, was the youngest to die.
FIFA, moved by the tragedy, donated US$10 000 to each family of those who were lost in the stampede.
Bafana Bafana went on to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, while the Warriors, who are yet to make an appearance at the global football showcase, failed in their bid to reach the finals.
However, in the wake of the tragedy, even a battle for a place at the World Cup took a back seat as the nation mourned its citizens who had gone to support their national football team but didn’t return home to tell the story.
Since then, Bafana Bafana and the Warriors have been kept apart in the World Cup qualifiers, with South Africa playing at the 2010 showcase by virtue of being the hosts, while failing to make it to the 2014 and 2018 finals.
The South Africans have appeared at three World Cup finals, the same number as the Black Stars of Ghana, who are the top seed in Group G which also features Ethiopia.
The Ghanaians were the toast of the continent, if not the world, at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when they came within just a penalty conversion, in the final minute of their match against Uruguay, to become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the global football showcase.
However, Asamoah Gyan, their leading striker at that tournament, failed when it mattered most, blazing his shot against the crossbar, and giving the South Americans a lifeline which they used as they beat the Black Stars in the penalty shootout drama that followed.
Some believe the Ghanaians have yet to recover from that blow and failed to reach the last World Cup finals in Russia.
There have also been some serious domestic problems in Ghanaian football, which led to the resignation of some key leaders and referees in shame after they were caught in a sting operation done by an undercover journalist.
Kwesi Nyantakyi, who was the Ghanaian Football Federation president and a FIFA Council member, was the highest profile victim of the sting operation after he was filmed stashing wads of cash into his bag in a Middle Eastern hotel after being fooled he was talking to some agents.
Nyantakyi was even touted as a future leader of the Confederation of African Football.
FIFA were forced to put in a normalisation committee to run the affairs of Ghanaian football, and the wounds of the fallout have yet to heal.
The Black Stars, still, have some fine players, including Jordan and Andre Ayew.
They will start as favourites in the group, but the Warriors could not have asked for a better pairing given they can fancy their chances against Bafana Bafana, which is a local derby, and against the West Africans, who are no longer the power they were in the past.
Interestingly, the Black Stars don’t have a coach right now after Kwesi Appiah was removed from his post, although some claim he could bounce back, while the Warriors are also looking for a substantive coach.
Bafana Bafana are under the guidance of a new coach, Molefi Ntseki.
Yesterday, in the South African media, what was trending was that Bafana Bafana will now take on Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona, two names which the South African football fans are familiar with.
Only the group winners will advance to the final round of qualifying, where the 10 group winners will be drawn into five two-legged affairs to determine the five sides that will compete in Qatar.
Ethiopia look like the weakest side in the group.