Played 7, won 0, drew 2, lost 5

17 Jan, 2022 - 00:01 0 Views
Played 7, won 0, drew 2, lost 5 Norman Mapeza

The Herald

Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter

NORMAN Mapeza’s latest tenure as Zimbabwe’s national football team coach is turning out to be a nightmare for the 49-year-old ex-Zimbabwe international.

The former defender is experiencing a difficult outing at the AFCON tournament in Cameroon where Zimbabwe became the first team to exit the tournament after losing to Senegal and Malawi in the opening two Group B games.

The nation’s spirits dipped, especially after the woeful loss to Malawi, who are the least ranked team in the group that also has modest West African side Guinea.

Mapeza’s appointment on the interim basis late last year, following the sacking of hapless Croatian coach Zdravko Logarusic, had brought with it relief and huge expectations.

The Zimbabwe national football team had completely been run down under Loga, who left a legacy of being the worst coach to lead the team, on the back of a dreadful run that saw the Warriors winning only one game in 14 outings, over a period of almost two years.

The experiment with Loga backfired terribly, and at a huge cost, as the Croatian milked the association over US$223 000 in salaries and bonuses over a period of 20 months.

Of course, nothing much could be expected from the Warriors, who have been operating under one of the worst domestic football leadership in years — the suspended ZIFA board led by Felton Kamambo.

But the ZIFA shenanigans aside, Mapeza accepted responsibility to lead the Warriors when approached in September last year aware of the possibilities and consequences ahead of him.

Now after seven games in charge of the team, the statistics do not look inspiring. ZIFA turned to him after the under-fire Logarusic had failed to meet a revised target to collect four points in the opening two matches of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

Mapeza was tasked to take charge of the remaining four games but Zimbabwe still could not manage a single win, even with new brooms in the technical team.

The Warriors lost back-to-back matches against Ghana to end a depressing World Cup campaign. They then went down 0-1 to neighbours South Africa before they were held at home by lowly-ranked Ethiopia.

The goalless draw against Sudan during the AFCON warm-up games in Cameroon, could have probably given the biggest hint that the team was set for a difficult outing at the tournament.

But after a gutsy performance in the 0-1 defeat to Senegal, who are currently the best ranked team on the continent, Zimbabwe fell to a disappointing 1-2 defeat to Malawi, which effectively ended their campaign in Cameroon.

Friday night’s defeat sent the whole nation into an emotional tailspin because this was a game that Zimbabwe needed to win to boost their chances of progressing from the group stages for the first time in five attempts.

Just as is the case at all tournaments, the spotlight is beaming heavily on the coach, as it does on the players and the preparations in the wake of the latest disappointment.

At the end of the day, everything zeroes in on the team selection, the tactics used and the overall application on the day by the players, among a number of considerations.

So many questions will be asked? Is the coach up to the task? Are the players the best we have at our disposal as a nation? Did the team get enough support before and during the tournament?

The preparations, according to Mapeza, were smooth. So it is safe to say Zimbabwe this time around, unlike the previous editions where they blamed the sideshows over money issues, lost it on the pitch.

The Warriors this year never had money problems in their camp after the Government poured in US$1 million for the team’s upkeep in Cameroon. FBC Bank Holdings also chipped in, albeit a bit late, with a pledge of US$1 000 winning bonuses for every game won, starting with last Friday night’s assignment.

The team selection and whatever tactics the Warriors used are the responsibility of the coach. Every coach hunts with his dogs and in his own way.

And, for the must-win game against Malawi, Mapeza had his own reasons why half-fit Kundai Benyu and skipper Knowledge Musona, who was not feeling well for the better part of the week, would be given generous playing minutes ahead of fan favourites Jordan Zemura and Kuda Mahachi.

Losing to Malawi was disappointing. But does the responsibility rest with the coach alone? The quality of the players in the Zimbabwe team in the last few years also needs a relook. Different coaches have failed at three AFCON finals and this could be a bad sign.

Zimbabwe’s conveyor belt has long dried up because of a lack of junior football development initiatives. This could explain the monotony in recycling players and why Onismor Bhasera, who is clearly slowing down at 36 years, is still regarded as one of the best defenders in our arsenal.

For the past decade Zimbabwe has overly relied on two men — Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat. The latter announced his retirement at 31 years, just before the AFCON finals and Musona, at the same age, is now past his best football years. Our football has failed to produce players of such calibre over the years and the future is bleak.

It’s still difficult to explain, losing to a side that only had two shots on target on Friday. The Zimbabwe players have some explanations to do for the glut of missed chances in the early stages of the game and the elementary defensive errors which led to the two goals.

Warriors Under Mapeza

PLAYED 7, Won 0, Draw 2, Lose 5

Ghana 3 – 1 Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe 0 – 1 Ghana

South Africa 1 – 0 Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe 1 – 1 Ethiopia

Zimbabwe 0 – 0 Sudan

Senegal 1 – 0 Zimbabwe

Malawi 2 – 1 Zimbabwe

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