Senior Sports Editor
WHEN Canada take on Sweden for the Olympic gold on Friday, the showdown will come on the fifth anniversary of one of the greatest performance by a lightweight at the world’s biggest sports showcase.
Ironically, the Canadians were also involved in that match at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo on August 6, 2016.
Their opponents were the Mighty Warriors of Zimbabwe, a team making their maiden appearance at the showcase, who had transformed themselves into the Olympic sweethearts.
Ranked 93rd in the world, the Mighty Warriors had made a mockery of the rankings by qualifying for a place among the best 12 teams, in the world, fighting for Olympic gold.
The Canadians romped to a 3-1 win on their way to winning the group, en-route to capturing bronze in the women’s football tournament,in Brazil.
It was the Mighty Warriors’ best performance at the 2016 Olympics and the Brazilian fans showed their appreciation by throwing their full weight behind the Zimbabweans.
‘‘Saturday’s match may have well been played in Harare given the heat and vocal support from the Corinthians Arena crowd of 30 295, which cheered every Zimbabwe pass and tackle,’’ wrote Neil Davidson of The Canadian Press.
The Canadians had no problem with that, acknowledging their lightweight opponents deserved it for their hearty performance on the day.
“It’s nice to play with people actually cheering, no matter who they’re cheering for, and people that are involved,” said Canadian striker Melissa Tancredi.
“They (the Zimbabweans) have all the heart in the world. It’s good to see people cheer for them.”
And, her teammate, midfielder Sophie Schmidt, agreed.
“All the credit to them (the Mighty Warriors), respect to them,” said Schmidt. “They came out and fought.”
A huge roar exploded inside the Corinthians Arena, with four minutes of regulation time left, when Mavis Chirandu grabbed a consolation, for the Mighty Warriors.
‘‘After the final whistle, the crowd chanted ‘Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe,’’’ noted Davidson, in his match report for The Canadian Press.
‘‘The Canadians were all but ignored.’’
Mighty Warriors coach, Shadreck Mlauzi, said they could not have asked for a better reception.
“We are delighted by everything we have got,” he said. “As long as you are passionate, you love your country, as long as you play with honour.
‘‘These girls, they are amateurs, but you can see they can compete with the rest of the world.”
The Mighty Warriors lost all their three games in Brazil with the 1-3 defeat at the hands of the Canadians, sandwiched between identical 1-6 defeats, to Australia and Germany.
But, they captured the imagination of the world by supplying the football tournament with one of its best players when it came to assists.
Marjoury Nyaumwe’s two assists helped her top the assists’ charts, with the likes of Brazilian legend, Marta, the first footballer, either male or female, to score at five consecutive Olympic Games.
Widely regarded as the finest female footballer in the history of the game, she won the FIFA World Footballer of the Year award six times, with five of the awards coming in consecutive years, from 2006 to 2010.
Christine Sinclair, the Canadian footballer who matched Marta in scoring at five consecutive Olympic Games, also had two assists in Brazil 2016, just like the Aussie duo of Emily van Egmond and Elisse Kellond-Knight.
The Germany duo of Melaine Leupolz and Alexandra Popp also had two assists.
The Mighty Warriors trio of Chirandu, Emmaculate Msipa and Kudakwashe Basopo were the only African footballers to score a goal at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Banyana Banyana, the other African representatives in Brazil, failed to score even a goal, in their three matches, against Sweden (0-1), China (0-2) and Brazil (0-0).
Yesterday, Canada beat the powerhouse of women’s football, the United States, 1-0, in the semi-final of the football tournament, at this year’s Olympic Games.
While the Canadians, who will now play for the gold medal, of the tournament, on Friday, against Sweden, have improved, since the 2016 Olympics, the same cannot be said about the Mighty Warriors.
Their spectacular fall from grace was completed when they were hammered 0-5 by Zambia, in Lusaka, in the qualifiers, for the Tokyo Olympics.
But, the worst was to come, a week later, when the Mighty Warriors boycotted a match, which they were set to host against the Zambians, with the Zimbabwean players refusing to take to the field, in protest over unpaid dues.
The Mighty Warriors now can’t even afford to win a match at the COSAFA Cup.
In their last appearance, at the regional tournament, in December last year, they departed to the competition without even a win, or a goal, to their credit.
On Friday, they will watch, from a distance, as 11 of the players, they battled against, when they produced the finest performance of the football tournament at the 2016 Olympics, fight for gold.
They are 38-year-old Canadian skipper, Sinclair, Stephanie Labbe, Allysha Chapman, Kadeisha Buchanan, Shelina Zardosky, Rebecca Quinn, Deanne Rose, Ashley Lawrence, Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt and Jessie Fleming.
“Have we regressed as nation? It will be unfair for to comment on this as it will great disrespect to my mate Kwinji (Sithetheliwe Sibanda),’’ said Mlauzi.
‘‘ All that I can say is that the neglect, frustration and lack of support has worsened!
‘‘It’s very sad!
“Not only the Olympics, but we had a dream even of qualifying for the FIFA Women World Cup. It was dashed by decision of the leaders.
“Qualifications would have no doubt improved the profile of the sport even further, it would have even attracted some form support and given the aspiring young footballers role models and a great desire to play the game.
“At the moment which parent would want their daughter to play soccer? I don’t have the answer to that question.’’