Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
IT has been four days of horror – an unforgiving football world laughing at us, battering us with a cocktail of sickening jokes and mocking us with a brutal mixture of adjectives usually reserved for pantomime villains and perennial misfits.
We have been paying a huge price for the farcical events in Djibouti last Thursday, where we transformed ourselves into an effigy of both ridicule and shame.
Somehow, we conspired to do something the football world had never seen before, or might never see again.
Something they believed was impossible – a national team losing a World Cup qualifier to its weakest, and homeless, member – Somalia.
That the Ocean Stars have even been fielding a team has been a miracle, considering the monumental challenges of doing so, in a country blighted by civil strife.
Where one can be killed by Al Shabaab for playing football, watching the game being played, or even reporting about it because, according to this radical Islamist terror group, doing all that is considered an unholy act.
And, that they somehow ended up beating us is now being celebrated as one of the game’s finest moments, football’s ultimate Cinderella tale – the closest thing football has come to creating, and patenting, its beautiful David versus Goliath episode.
It’s something the global football family have been waiting for since the first World Cup qualifier was held in Stockholm on June 11, 1932, with Sweden thrashing Estonia 6-2.
And, as it does on such special occasions, the globe has been feasting on the fairytale stories of the ultimate heroes and lampooning the villains.
You have probably heard the story of the Somali man who runs a driving school in Manchester, England, who took time off his day job to play for his country in a World Cup qualifier last Thursday.
‘‘I told my students that I’d be going away to play international football,’’ Mohamud Ali told the BBC. ‘‘Of course, they wanted to continue with their lessons but they were all absolutely delighted for me and I assured them I’d be back really soon.
‘‘The support has been amazing. We were trending on Twitter worldwide after the game. It’s a giant-killing when you think about it. They were the highest-ranked team playing in the preliminary round and we were the lowest.
‘‘Nobody expected us to win.’’
Ali and his fellow Ocean Stars Ocean Stars flew into Harare, on Sunday, already doing something we failed when we went to Djibouti – arriving as a team and, at least, two days before the match.
In sharp contrast, we arrived there in batches and on the eve of the big match.
‘‘It was a boozers’ set-up,’’ caretaker coach, Joey Antipas, told our sister newspaper, Chronicle. ‘‘We lost it in our shoddy preparations where it was more like a boozers’ set-up.
‘‘Players pitching up and playing a game, something that should never be repeated for a senior national team. We did not have a single training session to organise ourselves for an important game of this magnitude.
‘‘Players were fatigued due to the hectic traveling schedule.’’
The strange setting where Antipas, and his captain, met – for the first time in their lives – more than 5000kms away from home and just hours before a World Cup battle.
“Hi Alec, thanks for coming, I’m Joey, we have never met before, I’m the coach and you’re the captain,” the conversation, on that breakfast table, must have probably gone like that.
Just a few hours before the battle.
But, that’s the past and what matters today is for us to turn it around to ensure we prevent the vultures feasting on us once again, with negative headlines.
That’s why it’s refreshing to note that one of our talisman, Khama Billiat, has decided to take the risk to try and keep his Warriors in the World Cup despite concerns over his fitness, after an injury suffered in Cape Town last week.
Knowledge Musona also wanted to take a similar risk, despite not kicking a ball in a competitive match since June 30, because he simply can’t imagine his Warriors not playing in the group stages of the World Cup qualifiers.
Of course, there is a constituency which, bizarrely, believes a defeat would, in the long term, be beneficial to our football as they argue a victory will just pamper the cracks destroying our national game.
But that’s an outrageous thing to even contemplate because these Warriors aren’t playing for Felton Kamambo and his board, who have come under huge criticism, but for their country.
Those who think the fall of the Warriors, should that happen, will be another nail in Kamambo’s coffin are not only being selfish but certainly treasonous.
This is about us, as a people, as a nation, and to reduce it to ZIFA, and its endless madness, will be a great betrayal to our identity as Zimbabweans and what a fine World Cup run would mean to this country.
A great betrayal to the souls of those 13 fans who lost their lives at the giant stadium, at the turn of the millennium, supporting the cause of their Warriors in a World Cup adventure.
In a few months’ time, the clock will remind us that 20 years have passed since that dark day when tragedy hit us very hard.
That’s why we simply have to win today, for the kids, who don’t even know anything, or care, about the dynamics of the ZIFA politics.
For our reputation, as a people, which has taken quite a battering in the past four days and, of course, to cheer our spirits as we mourn the passing on of our nation’s founding father.