Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, EGYPT
ZIFA yesterday issued an apology to Zimbabweans after the Warriors suffered a humiliating exit at the 2019 AFCON finals with the association saying bitter lessons have been picked from an adventure that promised so much but delivered very little.
The so-called Golden Generation, which was expected to become the first group of Warriors to reach the knockout stages of the Nations Cup after winning their qualifying group with ease, ended their campaign here bottom of the table with just a point to their credit.
A 0-4 mauling at the hands of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in their final match on Sunday, crushed the dreams of a nation which had backed its team to clear the final hurdle and book its place in the Round of 16.
That the Congolese had lost both their matches to Egypt and Uganda, conceding four goals, and had failed to score in either match, had boosted expectations among the Warriors, and their fans, that this was a mission the team would successfully complete.
Interestingly, the Warriors had taken four points, after beating the DRC 2-1 in Kinshasa, and drawing 1-1 in Harare, in the qualifiers but, when it came to the tournament, the Zimbabweans had no match for their Congolese counterparts on Sunday.
ZIFA, in a statement released by their spokesman Xolisani Gwesela, said they were sorry for what transpired here but said focus should be switched to building strong foundations to ensure success stories are written going forward.
‘’The Zimbabwe Football Association would like to apologise to all Zimbabweans following the Warriors’ unfortunate and painful group stage elimination from the 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt,’’ the statement read.
‘’ZIFA is equally heartbroken because the intention was for the team to go further than the group stage and make history for our country. All efforts had been harnessed towards that goal.
‘’Further, ZIFA appreciates the commitment and efforts of all the players and the technical team during the tour of duty. The Association believes that the technical team, players and the officials fell while trying their best and would like to thank them for being our ambassadors.
‘’In addition, ZIFA would like to thank the nation, supporters and all stakeholders who contributed in many different ways towards the team’s participation in Africa’s most prestigious tournament.
‘’As the team heads back home, ZIFA will take time to introspect and lay a foundation for a better football future in order to guarantee better performances at such high profile tournaments.’’
The association also paid tribute to President Mnangagwa for rallying behind the team.
‘’Furthermore, ZIFA would like to specifically thank His Excellency, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the entire government, our parent ministry of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation, the Sport and Recreation Commission, the Warriors fundraising committee chaired by the Hon. Minister Kazembe Kazembe, sponsors and partners for the roles they played to make this campaign possible,’’ Gwesela said in the statement.
‘’In conclusion, it is ZIFA’s firm belief that the review exercise should take a sober approach that is not clouded by a lot of emotions.’’
ZIFA officials found themselves being locked in a series of meetings, with the players, over pay issues and on the eve of the opener against Egypt, the Warriors refused to train and threatened not to fulfill the match.
Ahead of the final game against the Congolese, the Warriors camp was hit by unrest as the players again threatened not to fulfill the match unless certain payments had reflected in their accounts.
At one stage, during the impasse, the ZIFA bosses even toyed with the idea of taking the drastic decision of withdrawing the team from the AFCON finals.