Editorial Comment: Zifa will be judged on Warriors performances

A FORTNIGHT before the senior national men’s soccer team resumed their 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifiers, Zifa Normalisation Committee chairman, Lincoln Mutasa, said he did not take the Warriors as a top priority in as far as his mandate is concerned. 

He said he was more concerned about putting in place structures that will shape the future of the game than getting quick results for the Warriors.

Mutasa conceded there was chaos when it came to the Warriors.

“You will be surprised, it’s only that what happens in our society, the whole football ecosystem focuses only on the national team, that’s where everybody’s focus is but within the past nine months or so we have gone to great lengths to re-establish structures that had almost collapsed.

“…So, if your measure is clearly just about the national team…what people are concerned about is why we have been chopping and changing the coach but that to me is not as important in the sense that what we are trying to do is to make sure that the structure is correct, that is more important going forward.”

When Mutasa and his committee were put into office last year, the Warriors were included in the draw for the 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifiers with Africa set for a record nine automatic slots, up from the current five.

Zimbabwe have never been to the Fifa World Cup and this was largely due to a very tough qualifying criteria in the past.

Now this was an opportunity to go hard on the 2026 tournament as a way of welcoming Zimbabwe’s return to the international football scene following the end of an 18-month Fifa ban, which followed the removal of Felton Kamambo’s woeful Zifa executive.

However, things have not taken the direction which most Zimbabwean football fans would have wanted.

The first two qualifiers staged in Rwanda in November last year against the hosts and Nigeria ended in draws but a review document by then coach, Baltemar Brito, exposed chaotic planning around the matches and it was hoped lessons were learnt.

Instead, Brito was pushed away and many have attributed his departure to the damning report that found its way onto the public forums. 

Brito’s contract ended on December 31 but there was no succession plan and Norman Mapeza was grabbed at the last minute to lead the Warriors at a four nations tournament in Malawi, which was aimed at preparing teams for the World Cup qualifiers.

Someone else compiled the squad for Mapeza to use and there was no clear plan on what was the goal in Lilongwe and in the end the coach focused on winning the tournament instead of giving every member of the squad an opportunity to play.

At the end of the event Zimbabwe had lost on both fronts –the Warriors were beaten by Kenya in the final while Mapeza has used way fewer players than those at his disposal in pursuit of the silverware.

This triggered a backlash on Mapeza and, even though he has issues of unpaid salaries and allowances by the previous Zifa leadership, he was forced to make himself unavailable for future appointments.

Zifa advertised for the substantive coach and received an overwhelming response and it was expected the successful candidate would take charge of the matches against Lesotho and South Africa as there was enough time for that.

That was not to be and instead, a squad was compiled before a decision was made to look at the PSL log and appoint the leading candidate, in this case Jairos Tapera of Manica Diamonds.

So the Warriors were starting afresh again. 

It resulted in the embarrassing 2-0 defeat at the hands of a Lesotho side that rarely wins matches in the Fifa World Cup qualifiers.

And just to confirm that Tapera and his technical department had had little say in the squad assembled by the Zifa NC for the two matches, they made six changes to the team for the match against South Africa. 

This is what ought to have been done at the Four-Nations tournament in Malawi not the crucial World Cup qualifiers.

In the end Zimbabwe emerged as the only team from Group C to not get at least a point from the two match days while others –Benin, Rwanda, South Africa, Lesotho and Nigeria got at least a draw from the back-to-back qualifiers.

There were some positives however, as the games unearthed a new warrior in Tawanda Chirewa who won the hearts of football fans including opponents, especially Bafana Bafana fans as seen on social media.

Comments posted on the Zifa platforms show that the public feels the Zifa NC has done more harm than good to the local game by mishandling the Warriors. 

If Mutasa insists that the Warriors should not be used as a measure of his reign, then he is taking the route taken by his predecessors.

Zimbabwe’s football revolves around the Warriors just like cricket revolves around the Chevrons.

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