Tadious Manyepo in YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon
THEY may have become the first of the 24-team showdown to be eliminated from the African Cup of Nations but Zimbabwe head home with their tails firmly up.
Not because they managed to find a way of beating Guinea 2-1 in their dead-rubber Group B tie at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium on Tuesday, having lost their opening two matches to Senegal and Malawi.
But it’s due to the fact they have scored a first in an area every other country at the jamboree encountered insurmountable hurdles.
It’s an area that has kept each and every team on their feet. Day and night.
No-one at this competition has found a way to erect a defensive war against Covid-19. But Zimbabwe did, incredibly too.
Of all the teams taking part in this biennual fiesta — forced to take place a year later because of this deadly pandemic — only Zimbabwe have retained a clean sheet for Corona virus over the 20 days they have been here.
Almost every other team was forced to change tactics after recording positive cases in their camps when the tournament kicked-off last week.
So bad has been the pandemic there were even threats the delayed competition would be shelved yet again.
Even the teams pooled in Group B along with Zimbabwe were not spared.
The Warriors’ first opponents Senegal had to open the campaign minus some of their key men, including Chelsea goalkeeper Eduardo Mendy and Napoli defensive rock Kalidou Koulibaly.
Malawi, who lost to an equally affected Guinea in their first game, had 12 members, including the man who would recover just in time to destroy Zimbabwe last Friday, Gabadinho Mhango, ruled out due to this fever.
Even their coach Meck Mwase was down with the bout and only followed proceedings against Guinea on television in his hotel room.
What makes the Malawi case even more special is the fact that for more than a week before the Covid-19 outbreak in their camp and another week that followed, they were sharing the same hotel with Zimbabwe.
So fragile and scary was the situation but somehow, the Zimbabwean camp remained intact and recorded a clean bill, not only when they were still in Bafoussam where they were staying at the same venue with Malawi, but when they moved to the capital Yaounde too.
The two Covid-19 compliant officers, Nick Munyonga and Edward Chagonda, never allowed any margin of complacency in the camp.
The Sports Commission support staff, members of the media, as well as a few supporters, who stayed some few kilometres away, were subjected to testing every morning on their arrival at the team’s hotel before using the same facilities, including kitchen utensils the team would have used.
“We have to make sure that we maintain our 100 percent record,” said Chagonda.
“Look, we have 23 players in camp and some few officials. This is a tournament where we need everyone to be available doing what they came here for.
“We have been strict from day one and we believe we will sail through until the day we leave for Zimbabwe.
“This is a disease which we cannot allow any one of us here to contract. Even when you leave the team hotel for where you are staying make sure you don’t get to mix and mingle with the population.
“We are here for this tournament and this tournament alone so we need that clean sheet at the end of the day.”
So thorough have been the two medical doctors in ensuring the Warriors’ bio-bubble remained sealed even when the team shifted base from Bafoussam.
The duo was directing operations as the Warriors made a 45-minute flight on Sunday until they were booked in their hotel in Yaoundé.
The training sessions were under strict monitoring with every one who was allowed made to produce proof they had been tested and recorded a negative sample.
They had to be tough, very tough monitoring even how the water which the players drank during training would have been moved between different points.
It’s a measure of how meticulous the country has become in terms of preventing the virus which has claimed millions across the planet since first reported in China three years ago.
It’s a measure of how organised this country can be when it comes to achieving set goals.
It’s a measure of how this country’s experts can help transform the negatives to positives.
Of course, the Warriors performed well below par given they had been supported so much, financially and emotionally by the Government and the general populace. But if there was only a trophy, for keeping the Covid-19 pandemic at bay, well, Zimbabwe are the winners.
They head back home starting today in batches for flights are somewhat hard to secure from this end, as the only team which never had issues to do with the Covid-19 pandemic.