ONE of the refreshing dominant themes from the messages posted by the Warriors, who were in South Africa for the COSAFA Cup, has been their praise for God for having been there with them when it mattered, most during an adventure where heaven and hell collided.
A campaign where they were dragged to the gates of hell before their sheer determination prevailed and helped them conquer adversity and light a path for them back to the Promised Land.
Whether it’s George Chigova, whose penalty-saving heroics were the stuff of the heavens, or Khama Billiat, whose explosion in the final tilted the titanic battle against Zambia in our favour, the praise for the Lord has been a common line in their social media posts.
“Proud of you guys,’’ Chigova tweeted last Saturday. “GLORY TO GOD.”
A few hours later, Billiat, whose crucial assist in the final minute of regulation time and two goals in extra-time eventually separated the winners and the losers, also took to Twitter to congratulate the team.
“Congratulations guys, thanks for the fighting spirit, I’m really humbled #INGODWETRUST #TeamZimbabwe,’’ Billiat tweeted.
Thanking the Lord has been a common feature of Billiat’s social media messages in recent months, as he battled the ravages of the injuries and as he also prepared for the end of his romance with South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,’’ he posted on Instagram on April 20.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
“Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. – Psalms 23:1-6 KJV #INGODWETRUST.’’
Tino Kadewere, who justified coach Sunday Chidzambwa’s decision to throw him into battle as the spearhead of the Warriors attack in the final with a man-of-the-match performance in which he scored two goals, including the decisive last-gasp equaliser taken with both class and composure, has also been praising the Lord.
“CHAMPIONS #COSAFA #TEAMZIM #GODABOVEALL,’’ he tweeted on the same day.
Refreshingly, it’s not only the Warriors who were at the COSAFA Cup who have been praising the Lord in this season, where it appears, a number of our star footballers have found a way out of the darkness and into the light.
Even the regular team captain Knowledge Musona, who missed the tournament because of concerns he could aggravate the injury which marred his season in Belgium, has been praising the Lord for blessing him with his recent big move from KV Oostende to a bigger and more successful club.
“Happy to confirm my move to Anderlecht next season. I would like to thank @KVOostende for everything, it was a great experience to be a part of the team,’’ Musona tweeted.
“MOST OF ALL, THANKS TO GOD FOR MAKING THIS POSSIBLE . . . the journey continues.’’
The Smiling Assassin has moved from a small club that has a stadium, the Versluys Arena, with a capacity of just 8 400, to a giant of a club that will be moving into the 60 000 Euro Stadium once it’s completed next year. After all, in the weeks he was completing his move to Anderlecht, his former teammate at KV Oostende, South African midfielder Andile Jali, was retracing his footsteps back home to Super Diski to join Mamelodi Sundowns.
The two players are virtually of the same age, Jali turned 28 on April 10, while Musona turns 28 next Thursday and, by all accounts, they both should be easing into the prime of their careers.
WHEN IT COMES TO THE LOTTERY OF PENALTIES, OUR FATE IS IN THE HANDS OF THE LORD
There is a reason our Warriors have been praising the Lord for helping them defend their COSAFA Cup because it’s not every tournament where a team doesn’t manage a victory in regulation time, throughout the tourney, but still find a way to emerge victorious.
Buried beneath the wild celebrations that greeted this success story was the damning reality that the Warriors did not win even a single match in regulation time in Polokwane in the four-and-half hours they were in the trenches against Botswana, Lesotho and Zambia.
All our three matches ended in draws and two of them, against Botswana and Lesotho, had to be decided by penalties, where as many in this game will testify, there is a very thin line between success and failure, between the light and darkness and between elimination and progressing to the next round. Penalties are a lottery and, once a game spills into a shoot-out, there is very little in terms of formula that can be applied and even some of the most competitive teams in the world, like England, the Netherlands and Italy have been found wanting when it comes to this cruel way of deciding games.
The Three Lions of England have lost six of their last seven penalty shoot-outs at major football tournaments, the World Cup and the UEFA Championships, including four successive losses in shoot-outs between the 1990 FIFA World Cup semi-finals to the Euro Championships in 2012.
At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Switzerland failed to convert any of their spot-kicks in the penalty shoot-out against Ukraine in a Round of 16 match and lost 0-3, and the unlucky Swiss team became the first country to fall at the World Cup without conceding a goal at the finals.
There have been some bizarre incidents when it comes to penalty shoot-outs, and maybe, the following shows it’s something that never goes according to script and, more often than not, teams ride their luck, and God’s grace to succeed when it comes to this cruel way of deciding matches:
- During the 1986 European Cup final, Steaua Bucharest goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam saved all four of the penalties which favourites Barcelona took in the shoot-out to help the Romanian club to be crowned champions of Europe after winning the shoot-out 2-0 in Seville.
- On May 19 2012, Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League title after defeating Bayern Munich 4–3 on penalties – the London side had never won a penalty shoot-out in the competition, losing the 2007 semi-final and 2008 final through the lottery, while the Germans had never lost a shoot-out in European competitions.
On July 17 2011, during the Copa America in Argentina, five-time World Champions Brazil missed four penalties in a row in the quarter-final and this helped Paraguay, who were the underdogs going into that match, to brew a shocker and reach the semi-finals.
- On June 3 2015, Sundsøre IF finally managed to defeat Nykøbing Mors 20–19 in a penalty shoot-out in a preliminary round of the Danish FA Cup that appeared to be going on forever and on June 20 2007, a new UEFA record was established in the semi-final of the European Under-21 Championships when 32 penalties were taken before the hosts, the Netherlands, ended England 13-12.
- On August 31 2005, an FA Cup replay between Tunbridge Wells and Littlehampton Town set an English record for the number of penalties taken in a shoot-out when 40 kicks were needed to separate the two teams, with Wells finally emerging 16-15.
- The 2009 Greek Cup final between AEK and Olympiacos ended 3-3 in regulation time and 4-4 after extra-time and the ensuing penalty shoot-out produced a dramatic finale with 34 penalties needed before Olympiacos eventually won the battle 19-18.
A Hampshire Senior Cup second round match between Brockenhurst and Andover Town on October 9, 2013, in England saw both teams set a world record for most penalties converted consecutively when they scored 29 spot-kicks in a row only for the 30th to be saved to let Brockenhurst win the match 15-14.
- Of course, the current world record for the longest penalty shoot-out in a competitive first class match stands at 48 penalties, which were needed to decide the 2005 Namibian Cup between KK Palace and Civics 17–16, while the record score in a penalty shoot-out was set by Argentinos Juniorst that edged Racing Club 20-19 in the 1988 Argentine Championship, where 44 penalties were needed to decide the match.
AND, AT THE COSAFA CUP IN POLOKWANE, GOD WAS SURELY WITH US
If you think George Chigova’s penalty-saving heroics was ordinary stuff, when even our goalkeeper is thanking the Lord for being with him as he represented his country with distinction in those shoot-outs, then take some time to consider these damning statistics about goalkeepers who are widely considered to have been far better than King George.
Legendary English goalkeeper Peter Shilton, who represented his country for 20 years between 1970 and 1990, saved just one penalty in 125 appearances for his country and not even one in a major tournament, while David Seaman saved only two of the 15 penalties he faced during his entire England career.
David James did not save any of the seven penalties he faced in the colours of the Three Lions and Paul Robinson, who played for England for four years, saved only one of the five penalties he faced in the colours of his country.
Five straight penalty saves in a shoot-out isn’t the stuff you see in this game and you need that divine helping hand for you to achieve such a feat, no matter how good you are as a goalkeeper.
There are things that we, mere mortals, can never understand and sport helps to show us the occasions when the Lord is at work, when He is performing miracles, like Zambia somehow returning to the Gabonese city, Libreville, where a generation of their football stars perished in a plane crash, to win their only Nations Cup.
Like Manchester United, whose players were killed in a plane crash in the German city of Munich in 1958, having to beat Bayern Munich, amid the drama of two late goals in Barcelona, to help Sir Alex Ferguson win his first UEFA Champions League with the Red Devils in 1999.
Or Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the 51st hattrick of his career, in the 3-3 draw for Portugal against Spain in their World Cup opener last night, and this also becoming the 51st hattrick ever scored in the World Cup in history.
There are things that you can’t put an explanation to, except to just say that God was there to make it possible, like Ronaldo finding perfection when his country needed him to, in those final minutes of last night’s thriller in Sochi, and then going on to produce a peach of a free-kick to level matters for his country.
Until last night, Ronaldo had never scored a goal against the Spaniards, but he needed just four minutes to end that and, with his team staggering towards what looked like a painful defeat last night, with time not on their side, Cristiano rose to the occasion to win a free-kick and then power it with brilliance of execution, which only a genius like him could, for the draw.
There is a dividend, or a reward, to belief and faith even when time appeared to have gone against us in the final against Zambia on Saturday, I still had this feeling that God was with us, given the way He had carried us through those two penalty shoot-out victories, and even in that last minute, I believed that something would happen in our favour.
Even when the Zambians raced forward in that final minute, taking advantage that we had committed a lot of men upfront, and created an opportunity which saw them come face-to-face with Chigova to score the fourth goal and end the game, I still believed.
And, just like that, the Zambians hit the post and the ball, instead of going out, which would have chewed more time, the ball rebounded back into play and gave us the chance to pump it forward, which we did. Khama Billiat, the shortest player on the field, somehow, sprung himself into the air to outjump the tallest Zambian player.
The ball rolled to Evans Rusike, Khama sprinted into the penalty area, called for the supply, received it, headed the ball across goal to Kadewere who, with the killer touch of a gunslinger, hit it first time for the dramatic equaliser.
Watching it all unfold, my thoughts drifted back to that Chilean mining accident in 2010, when a 121-year-old gold and copper mine collapsed and trapped 33 miners 2 000 metres underground where they would remain trapped for 69 days as the world struggled to free them.
Most of the trapped miners were Roman Catholic and they asked for religious items, including Bibles and rosaries to be sent down to them, while Pope Benedict XVI sent each of the miners a rosary with the consignment brought to the mine by the Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Fransisco Javier Ossa.
Of course, as food started running out down underground, some of the miners became desperate and reports suggested that some told the only Bolivian, among the trapped miners, that he would be the first they would eat in the event they were forced into cannibalism to survive.
However, after 69 days under ground, they were all rescued, but before they left the tunnel that had become their home for over two months, underground, they left a note scribbled on the rock – “HERE STAYED 33 MINERS FOR 69 DAYS AND GOD WAS WITH US.’’
In subsequent interviews, the Chilean miners said they were not 33, but there was a 34th miner down there with them, who helped them stay alive, and that was God.
For us, the COSAFA Cup triumph came 33 years after our first victory in a regional tournament, when we won the CECAFA Cup, and we scored two goals back then against Kenya and scored two goals again on Saturday in regulation time against Zambia.
If you add the numbers of the years of the Chilean mine by the time the disaster occurred, 121 (one + two + 1) you get four and those were the goals scored in regulation time last Saturday and the goals our boys scored by the end of the game.
Seeing Mhofu explode into such delirium after we got our last-gasp equaliser last Saturday reminded me of that classic obituary, which Mike Selvey wrote for his friend, cricket writer and broadcaster, the great Martin Christopher-Jenkins, also known as the Major, in The Guardian in January 2013.
“The 1992 World Cup, in Australia and New Zealand, became known as the karaoke tour because of the evenings spent seeking out karaoke bars,’’ Selvey wrote.
“After the final, in Melbourne, we persuaded the Major to join us and within half an hour of saying he would never do anything like that, he was perched on a stool, crooning Love Letters In The Sand, including a whistling bit in the middle. GOD, he was happy that night.’’
To God Be The Glory
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Chat with me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @Chakariboy, interact with me on Viber or read my material in The Southern Times or on www.sportszone.co.zw. The informative ZBC weekly television football magazine programme, Game Plan, where I join the legendary Charles “CNN” Mabika and producer Craig “Master Craig’’ Katsande every Wednesday night, is currently on a break