THE Zimbabwe Warriors’ dramatic victory on Tuesday, where they needed an added time goal to escape World Cup elimination, should provide a number of lessons for our football leaders.
Seemingly down and out, after conceding a freak goal, the Warriors showed admirable never-say-die spirit, synonymous with their name, to score twice in the last six minutes to keep their World Cup hopes alive.
In doing so, they also avoided being the subject of negative headlines around the world, in which they would have been lampooned for being the first team to be eliminated by Somalia, at this level of the game.
Having lost the first leg in Djibouti, a defeat that also made headlines around the world, the Warriors knew they could not afford another misstep at home if they wanted to remain in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
And, with just five minutes of regulation time left at the National Sports Stadium on Tuesday, everything looked lost for us after we gifted Somalia an equaliser on the day.
But, to their credit, the Warriors rallied to score twice and win the game, and also edge the aggregate score, to advance to the group stages of these World Cup qualifiers which will start in March next year.
Everyone around the world expected us to be there when the action starts in March because we were the top-ranked side in the preliminaries and Somalia were the lowest-ranked team.
However, for some reason, we conspired to make life difficult for ourselves leaving us facing the grim possibility of elimination until our boys staged that late rally to score those two late goals.
One of the biggest lessons from all this is that our football leaders should simply do what they were elected to do — administer the game and not poke their noses in technical issues like team selection.
Their disastrous decision to prescribe to caretaker coach Joey Antipas the names of players who should not be considered for national duty, on the basis that these players misbehaved during the AFCON finals, was poor and almost backfired terribly.
When you employ a coach, especially for the national team, you have no role whatsoever to try and tell him the players he should and should not pick because that is his or her baby.
You can’t be the administrator and the coach at the same time because the coaches are the experts in their field and they know the best players who fit the systems they use to try and get results.
If ZIFA had issues with some players who crossed the line during the chaos that characterised our AFCON finals camp amid battles over bonuses and allowances, surely they should not have used the World Cup as part of the process to settle scores.
For, this is the biggest football tournament in the world and we should always strive, as best as we can, to try and get there and that requires the services of our very best players.
A good ZIFA leadership would have waited for the preliminaries to be played, qualification for the group stages secured, and then used the next six months to sort whatever in-house issues they had with the players.
But, it appears, there was that feeling because we were playing Somalia, who had never won a World Cup qualifier in their history before, we could experiment with leaving some of our best players because, in the mind of our football leaders, we were going to win anyway.
However, what the ZIFA board members didn’t take into account is that the game has changed, in the past few years, and the traditional minnows of African football, in particular, and world football, in general, are now punching well above their weight.
How our football leaders had not picked any lessons from Madagascar’s incredible run, at the 2019 AFCON finals, where they reached the quarter-finals of the tournament, despite making their debut at the tourney, to show them no football team could be taken lightly anymore, remains a mystery?
This is why, despite having avoided disaster on Tuesday, there is need for our national game to take stock of all the things it did wrong in the countdown to those two games against Somalia.
Surely, going forward, we can’t have football administrators telling the coach the players he or she should pick for national duty because that is not the job of those who were elected to lead our football.
There is need for our football leaders to let bygones be bygones, after the chaos that rocked our Warriors camp in Egypt, and give our best players another chance to represent their country.
After all, this is about Zimbabwe, this country, and not just the interests of just a few individuals who might feel they were wronged when the players took them on demanding to be paid their bonuses and allowances in Egypt.
There is need for the ZIFA leaders to organise a workshop, which can be addressed by some experts, where the representatives of the players, in this case the Footballers Union of Zimbabwe, and our football leadership can exchange frank views of how they can deal with the challenges that have been affecting their relationship.
And, for goodness sake, we can’t have another situation where our players arrive for national duty in batches, as was the case in Djibouti, on the eve of the match as important as a World Cup qualifier, and expect them to perform well when they have not trained together.