Robson Sharuko in BLIDA, Algeria
ZDRAVKO LOGARUSIC is set to get a baptism of fire tonight, the toughest possible maiden assignment for any coach working in Africa, when his Warriors take on the defending champions in a 2021 AFCON qualifier here.
It’s a measure of either his strong character, or his suicidal tendencies, that he actually accepted this job fully aware his first examination will come against the Desert Foxes, in their slaughter chamber, here this evening.
The same arena where Chipolopolo came, just four months ago, and were soundly beaten as they conceded five goals in a humiliation that was as graphic, as it was humbling, for the 2012 African champions.
For a man, whose only claim to fame, when it comes to guiding a senior national football team, is leading Sudan to a CHAN bronze medal two years ago, his courage is either a trip into fantasy or, as we might see tonight, an adventure into reality.
As his flock, divided by those willing to give him a chance and others who have rejected him as an outright gold-digging merchant simply interested in inflating his bank account, we can only watch as he starts his mission.
One that could, in the end, take us to a third straight appearance at the AFCON finals, where the so-called Golden Generation, led by Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat, will get their final crack to drag us beyond the group stages for the first time in our history.
Or one that could, in the end, take us nowhere — with the Croat failing where Sunday Chidzambwa succeeded twice, and where Charles Mhlauri and Callisto Pasuwa succeeded once, on the only occasions they were asked to take these Warriors to the Nations Cup finals.
In the event we fail, Loga would have put to waste the solid start which Joey Antipas, a coach who cost a penny where the Croatian now costs a pound, had with these Warriors sitting on four, out of six possible points, and firmly in the race for qualification for the 2021 AFCON finals.
For many, among that army of Doubting Thomases, the prayer will be that miracles can still happen in this game and, at the end of the day, everyone will be smiling with a ticket to Cameroon secured.
And, for many, among the cavalry of believers, the prayer will be that he finds a way to pass this brutal examination, of his lightweight credentials tonight and, even in defeat, he shows there is reason to believe tomorrow will provide better returns.
It’s easy to be seduced by Loga’s charm, no wonder reports emerged that some women in Nairobi petitioned the authorities in Kenya, to express their dissatisfaction with the decision by Gor Mahia to terminate his contract in 2013.
He speaks with authority, preaches with confidence, loves his players, creating a bond of trust between them and him, and treats his lieutenants with respect.
He picks up all the calls from the media, no matter his reservations about how some of the newspapers have treated him, including dismissing him as a Croatian Conman, and answers their questions as well as he could possibly do.
The last time Loga had a flirtation with a national team, in an AFCON qualifier, the outcome was a negative one and it triggered his divorce with his employers at the Sudanese Football Federation.
A 0-1 loss to South Africa in November was viewed by his employers as just a symptom, of how their Falcons of Jediane had lost their way under him, despite the promise showed with that 2018 CHAN run.
The jury talked about his failure to take Sudan to the 2019 AFCON finals, and a second round elimination in the 2020 CHAN qualifiers to Tanzania, as proof that their Falcons were being pulled in the wrong direction by the Croat.
In the end, the divorce pact was signed but his two years in charge represented a milestone, for a nomadic fellow who has been changing jobs as if he was some kind of marauding soldier of fortune, since he arrived on the continent about a decade ago.
He insists he wasn’t pushed out of Sudan, that he left on his own terms, there was unrest in the country by then, as politics took centre stage, and the atmosphere was not conducive for the game to thrive.
It’s hard to argue with him on that one but that’s all in the past now, even though the past might still be recent, and what matters is how he will fare with the Warriors.
And, that starts tonight, in the toughest way possible, against Riyad Mahrez and company, a team still fueled by the excitement of returning to the top of the African football tree after their triumph in Egypt last year.
“We are playing the best team in Africa and let us show how good we are against the best,” Logarusic said.
“I want to see a spirit of Warriors, because that is the name of our team. We are Warriors, sometimes Warriors can go to a war outside of their backyard, they will still be expected to win the war, and that is exactly how I want the team to do.
“I cannot do it by myself. In this job I need proper support from my technical staff. I need proper support from the players, proper support from the association and, most importantly, the media and the supporters.
“We must create an environment that gives us results. With that we don’t care who is Algeria or any other opponent . . . I am happy for this opportunity and I will not disappoint you.
‘‘We have talent out there.’’
Incredibly, the Desert Foxes have never beaten the Warriors, in a competitive match, in the past 30 years with three of those matches ending in draws while Zimbabwe beat Algeria 2-1 in a 2004 AFCON finals group game.
The last time the Warriors were here, Peter Ndlovu and Shingi Kawondera were on target in a 2-2 draw in a 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier on June 19, 2005.
It was the same score when the two teams last met, in a 2017 AFCON finals group match which ended 2-2 on January 15, 2017, in the Gabonese city of Franceville.
A similar scoreline, and priceless point tonight, will be something Loga and his lieutenants will certainly celebrate as another giant step, in their mission, to try and reach the 2021 Nations Cup finals.
For Loga, and his men, it can’t get any tougher than this but, as the new coach said, that’s what separates Warriors from pretenders.
The 2021 AFCON qualifier between Algeria and Zimbabwe, which had been set for tonight, was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. This preview of the postponed Algeria/Zimbabwe match captures how The Herald would have possibly ran the story today if the match had gone ahead. It’s in line with how the sports media, across the world, has been trying to give its audience a welcome distraction from the grim reports about this pandemic. This has included producing reports of matches that never happened. Much of last weekend’s French sports coverage was given to the big clash between Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain, which was meant to be played on Sunday, before its postponement. In Spain, the AS newspaper even did a match report of the La Liga game between Leganes and Valladolid, even though it was also postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak