physical, inflicted from that epic night of attrition, to heal.
Then, just like now, we meet in a battle for a World Cup final that will be staged on the other side of the Atlantic, and where the showdown 20 years ago was for a place in North America, the fight this time around is for a place in South America. Then, just like now, our showdown comes in the year that ends with the number three and the more things have changed, in our football landscape, the more they have remained the same and the man in charge of the Warriors for the game on Tuesday would be another German expatriate.
It’s impossible, for those who lived through the wild nights and beautiful days of the Dream Team, to forget about the events in Cairo on February 28, ’93. The combination of both ecstasy and agony they endured following that drama, the pain they endured seeing their gallant Warriors fall and the controversy they witnessed as both Reinhard Fabisch and Bruce Grobbelaar were struck by flying missiles. The ecstasy of seeing Agent Sawu give the Warriors a dream start, after only four minutes, and the joy brought about by the silence that descended on the Cairo International Stadium, filled to capacity with 120 000 fans, all of them struggling to adjust to the reality that their team had fallen behind.
You can see it all happening, like it happened yesterday, Peter Ndlovu running to a pass down the right, luring four Egyptian players to his corner and buying his time, like the ultimate professional that he was at the peak of his youthful athletic powers, to allow his fellow forwards to move into dangerous positions. The pass, from King Peter, when it came was aimed at Rahman Gumbo but an Egyptian defender cut it out and the ball looped into the air, from that deflection, into the path of Agent Sawu.
Every football team has a man for the occasion, that one man you want to be in a particular position at a particular time to take a particular chance and, as fate would have had it, the man we wanted to be in that position, at that time when that opportunity presented itself, was Sawu. With the composure of a seasoned assassin, he didn’t wait for a second invitation and took his chance with aplomb, lifting the ball over Egyptian ‘keeper, Ahmed Shober, for his fifth goal of a productive campaign to push the Warriors into the lead.
The silence, it was like visualising the moment Tommy walks into the barroom, in Kenny Rodgers’ country classic ‘Coward of the County’, to confront the three Gatlin boys, who had taken turns to abuse the only person he held dear to his heart — his lover Becky.
You can listen to the lyrics, in Kenny Rogers’ hit song, and the silence that follows gives you the picture of what the Cairo International Stadium turned into that moment, on that night, when Sawu thrust the trailblazing Warriors into the lead.
‘‘The Gatlin boys just laughed at him when he walked into the barroom.
One of them got up and met him halfway ‘cross the floor.
When Tommy turned around they said, ‘Hey look! ol’ yellow’s leavin’.
But you could have heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door.”
Oh, yes, you could have heard a pin drop, inside the giant Cairo International Stadium, at that moment when Sawu landed the first blow and Zimbabwe took the lead. There was heartbreak, of course, in this drama and Ashraf Kasem equalised for the Egyptians, from the penalty spot after Henry McKop was punished for a foul inside the box in the 32nd minute and the legendary Hossam Hassan struck a beauty, for the decisive second, seven minutes later.
The pain of seeing the Warriors battle long and hard, for a goal that would have changed everything else in the second half, but still fail to get it and, as each minute drifted away, the agony of realising that a dream that had been nurtured for over a year, in a period in which the boys had refused to be beaten in eight competitive games, was turning into a nightmare.
Watching Fabisch’s blood-soaked shirt, after he was hit by a missile, seeing Grobbelaar needing treatment, after also being struck, all brought this sinking feeling that life was very unfair, why should it always happen to us, why did Fifa condone such lawlessness and it was the pain of betrayal, by a system that we had trusted to provide a level playing field, which hurt the most.
It was this feeling that the Pharaohs didn’t deserve their place in the sunshine, that they victory had been aided by a playing field that was awkwardly tilted in their favour, that the wild events inside the stadium had all helped to frighten our boys and help the Egyptians, that Grobbelaar would have performed better had he not been hit and that Fabisch would have done better, in his tactical instructions had he not been struck with a 400g missile, which all combined to amplify the pain.
It has taken us 20 full years to return to the Land of the Pharaohs, for a World Cup showdown, and things could not have been any different given that this latest battle clearly lacks the intensity of the last match, it’s not a winner-take-all contest that will bring life to a standstill, both in Egypt and Zimbabwe, there won’t be 120 000 screaming fans inside the stadium and it’s unlikely our coach and ‘keeper will be targeted by missiles.
Egypt can afford to lose and still remain top of the qualifying group, Zimbabwe have sent a team that looks more developmental, with an eye on the 2018 World Cup than on the 2014 World Cup and a loss will not be treated as much of a disaster as was the 0-2 defeat we suffered in Angola last year when our tickets to travel for the 2013 Nations Cup finals were being sorted out by the travel agents.
Even the Zifa leadership appear resigned to fate that we will lose on Tuesday and, as Ndumiso Gumede told our sister paper B-Metro, that should not be cause to trigger alarm bells.
“It’s true that our game needs to progress in terms of style and results but I think we should not put too much pressure on the boys and their coach Pagels. At the moment results should not be our primary focus as we are developing a team that will later constantly give us results. We should rally behind the boys, wish them a good outing and encourage them not to lose embarrassingly,” said Gumede
Reliving The Drama Of ‘93
Times have changed, no doubt about that, and where today we go in with a message to our boys to “encourage them not to lose embarrassingly,” 20 years ago it was blood-and-thunder, swim-or-sink, sweat and tears, kugegedana kwameno, no turf given for free, every inch the subject of a battle royale and the war was intense and the result priceless.
Felix Munemo, an executive with Air Zimbabwe, was part of a group of local fans who traveled to Cairo for that unforgettable contest in February ’93 and, on his return home, he told the nation that he had been “to hell and back.” He still carried what remained of his Zimbabwe flag, torn to pieces by violent gangs of Egyptians, and the emotional scars of watching a football game, with about seven Egyptian policemen standing guard over them for the sake of their safety, while scores of the local fans bayed for their blood.
Remarkably, Munemo was so refreshingly honest that he said there came a time, during the match, when they pondered about what was more important — their lives or the victory or draw that the Warriors were chasing — and they ended up praying for an Egyptian win because that was the only way they could be guaranteed of leaving that stadium alive.
“IF ZIMBABWE HAD WON, WE WERE DEFINITELY GOING TO DIE,” Munemo told The Herald.
Two weeks after that ill-fated match, Fifa nullified the result and ordered a replay in Lyon, France, on the basis that:
- Both the referee (Jean-Fidel Diramba, Gabon) and match commissioner (George Lamptey, Ghana) stated that there was a “shower of stones” prior to the kick-off of the match.
- One stone hit Zimbabwean player, Henry McKop, on the nose prior to kick-off, requiring treatment and consequently delaying kick-off for more than five minutes.
- This player was able to play with diminished responsibility and his performance was possibly affected to the detriment of the visiting team (giving him an alibi for the penalty that he conceded leading to Egypt’s equaliser).
- The referee was forced to stop the game after 27 minutes for a period of three minutes because one of his linesmen was constantly being pelted with stones.
- In the 36th minute, Zimbabwe coach Reinhard Fabisch was hit by a stone while standing a few metres in front of the bench, seriously injuring him on the head and requiring treatment and preventing him from giving instructions to his team at half-time (which again possibly affected the course of the match).
- During the second half, Zimbabwe goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar was also pelted and that several stones struck him on the back of his head and Grobbelaar had to undergo a brain scan in England as a result of the incident.
- The facts reported by both the referee and the match commissioner were grave.
An Egyptian sports magazine, Al Ahlawiya, exploded in rage after this decision and, in a commentary headlined — Dirty Plot and Black Slave — fired a number of missiles, pregnant with racial connotations at the referee, match commissioner and black Africans.
“The African referees are still living in the days of racial discrimination. They show their hatred on everything that is white. They haven’t forgotten that they are slaves and, naturally, there is a great difference between the masters and their slaves,” thundered Al Ahlawiya.
“They look at everything that is white with a sore eye because their hearts are filled with hatred. Definitely, we have been afflicted to great pain with those blacks in our last match against Zimbabwe on February 28 that ended 2-1 in favour of Egypt.
“The match was handled by the wild bear called Diramba from Gabon. Spite and hate against Egypt and its people was clear. There was conspiracy from the Zimbabwean team, the referee, linesmen and commissioner who connived against Egypt.
“IT WAS CLEAR THE REFEREE WAS SYMPATHISING WITH HIS BLACK TRIBESMEN.
“THIS IS NOT AN EXAGGERATION OR IS IT THE FIRST TIME THAT AFRICANS HAVE TREATED US LIKE THIS AND HAVE PASSION FOR THEIR BLACK RACE.THEY HATE ARAB TEAMS AND THEY ARE FOND OF GETTING BRIBES.”
Veteran Egyptian coach, Mohamed el Gohary, who was in charge of the Pharaohs, accused Fabisch as a worse cheat than Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” that knocked England out of the ’86 World Cup.
“Fabisch stayed on the ground for a long time, bandages were put around his head and he was admitted to hospital but he was not seriously hurt,” said Gohary, “He cheated as much as Maradona against England.”
Playing Against The Pharaohs
The Warriors have played the Pharaohs nine times, in World Cup, Nations Cup, Simba Four-Nations Cup and friendly international matches and have only won once, when Zimbabwe beat Egypt 2-1 in Harare on December 20, ’92, during a golden spell for the Dream Team. We have lost four times and drawn four times against the Pharaohs — drawing at home in ’84 in a World Cup qualifier, in Lyon, France in ’93 in a World Cup qualifier, at the Simba Four Nations Cup in South Africa and in an international friendly here in June ’99.
The Pharaohs are no longer the force that ruled the African continent, with a firm grip, in the first decade after the turn of the millennium, age has caught up with most of their stars and the revolution in their country has made football take a back seat and taken a toll on the game. They failed to beat the Central African Republic, in two matches for the right to qualify for the 2013 Nations Cup finals, losing 2-3 in Alexandria, where they play the Warriors on Tuesday, in June last year and could only draw 1-1 away in CAR.
They were also conspicuous by their absence at the 2012 Nations Cup finals. While they have won both their World Cup qualifying matches, they were far from being dominant and their 2-0 win over Mozambique was a scrappy affair, against a poor side, while their 3-2 victory over Guinea in Conakry was heroic and needed a last-minute goal.
But we are not a team that is going into this battle trying to win the match, which would dramatically change the qualifying process and give us a big chance, but one that appears to have already conceded that we will lose and the focus should be on damage limitation. Our football leaders have already given Pagels an alibi for failure, under the cover that he is rebuilding the team, and while the German coach won’t say it publicly, privately he will tell his friends that it’s the first time he has plunged into a football system that uses a World Cup show as part of the experiments to build a national team.
Twenty years ago we were being labeled as slaves and monkeys, blacks and tribesmen, by the Egyptians for standing up against them and challenging them for the right to earn a place, at the ’94 World Cup finals, by beating them here and forcing them to use dirty tactics in Cairo. Today, we appear to surrender even before the fight, long before the battle, we search for excuses before the first shot is fired and Pagels and his tikka takka approach have the freedom of the national association to go and do as he wishes because the result, at the end of it all, is not what is important.
Two decades ago gallant men like Fabisch, Grobbelaar and McKop were putting their heads on the line, coming under the direct fire of missiles thrown from a 120 000 capacity Cairo International Stadium, and emerging out of it with shattered limbs and damaged foreheads, all for a place at the World Cup finals. Today, the message appears to be it’s all right to go down in Alexandria, as long as you give it a fight, because the team is being rebuilt all over again. Back then, fans like Munemo were wondering if they would leave the stadium alive, now nothing appears to matter much even when it’s clear that a win injects life into our campaign and a loss, which pegs us eight points adrift of the Pharaohs, ends our interest.
The last time the local fans abandoned the Warriors, when only 4000 came to watch the Nations Cup qualifier against Angola at home, the national team surprised them with a storming first half performance that gave them a 3-0 lead in those 45 minutes. Under massive pressure from their fans, in the decisive game in Luanda, the Warriors crumbled and lost their plot to surrender a ticket that was within their grasp.
Very few people are giving the Warriors any chance in Egypt, because they still are to be charmed by Pagels, because we are traditionally poor travelers, because most of our key players have been turned into bench-warmers at their clubs and because a number of players on the tour are lightweight.
But that removes the pressure from the Warriors, something they have traditionally failed to handle and that could give them the freedom to post, just like the Central African Republic before them, a shock result in Egypt. You never know with football, Charles Mabika always says, and in a year where Burkina Faso reached the final of the Nations Cup, Nigeria ended 18 years of waiting to be crowned kings, nothing can be taken for granted and who are we to say the Warriors will be beaten on Tuesday.
Buttered, Bruised, Down But . . .
Dynamos’ sensational second half collapse in Tunisia, en-route to a 0-3 defeat, left their Champions League adventure in disarray and Callisto Pasuwa with an army of critics who found the ammunition to question his credentials, especially in the tough jungle of African inter-club football.
That Pasuwa’s teams have leaked nine goals in Tunisia against teams from that country, in two years, without scoring one, has armed the critics who now boldly claim that his tactical capacity, when pitted against top coaches on the continent, comes into question.
That DeMbare conceded three goals after the break on Sunday, in a game where they say coaches are seen by the way they plot their second half approach, has given Pasuwa’s critics loads of ammunition.
But how do people quickly forget that this is a coach who built his Champions League dreams on Simba Sithole, Rodreck Mutuma, to provide the goals, and Aaron Katebe, to provide the height and experience needed at the back for such tough adventures and finds himself with none of the trio?
Every mid-and-off season he sees his key players leaving, because he is powerless to stop them, and he runs around to get what’s left of the average stock and we still expect him to create miracles, on the big stage, and when things don’t go according to plan, those of open-mouths-and-shut-minds quickly rush to call for his dismissal.
The chief striker he lost in the middle of last season, Takesure Chinyama, already has five goals in two Champions League matches this year for Orlando Pirates and one can only wonder how many goals he would have scored for DeMbare if he had stuck around and gelled into the system.
Such is the firepower at Pirates that Chinyama, for all his five goals, wasn’t even in the traveling team that went to Zambia and beat Zanaco 1-0 in the Champions League last Saturday. That he could have been the first pick at DeMbare isn’t questionable and that, more than anything else, shows the uneven nature of the playing field that the Glamour Boys find themselves in when it comes to the Champions League these days.
I saw all the three goals they conceded and felt their defenders were exposed, when it came to the high balls, and ‘keeper George Chigova needed to take responsibility, especially in the decisive first goal, by coming off his line to dominate his area.
When you have a ‘keeper who remains rooted to his spot when the balls are flighted in and a defence whose ability to deal with high balls is questionable, you have a cocktail for disaster. But CA Bizertin don’t look like a super team and an early goal for Dynamos in Harare changes everything and will make this tie very interesting.
Somehow, against all the odds, I find it difficult to join the bandwagon of those who are saying the Glamour Boys are out of this contest even when the statistics, which show me that in 31 Champions League matches against North African opponents they have won just nine games and lost 19, don’t support my optimism. They are buttered, bruised and down but to suggest they are out is testing fate and, as a Manchester United fan, I have seen too much in this game to take things for granted.
To God Be The Glory
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Text Feedback – 0772545199
Email – [email protected]
Skype – robson.sharuko10
Twitter – @Chakariboy
You can also interact with ROBSON SHARUKO on Facebook and Viber.