Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
THE Zimbabwe Warriors have challenged those claiming their final 2019 AFCON Group A match against the DRC, could have been compromised by a Congolese business tycoon, to use the comprehensive security apparatus at the hotel they were staying here to substantiate such allegations or simply shut up.
The Warriors, whose campaign here ended in the ignominy of a shock 0-4 defeat at the hands of the Congolese last Sunday, spent the better part of yesterday exchanging notes on their interactive media platform where they all expressed shock at the dark and nasty turn of events.
The reports first emerged in the Madagascan media on Wednesday but, so far, CAF have been defiant in refusing to discuss the issue and have given DRC the green light to continue with their preparations for their Round of 16 match against the Indian Ocean islanders in Alexandria on Sunday.
The reports claimed the DRC were set to be thrown out of the tournament, and also heavily fined, by CAF with wealthy Congolese businessman, Moise Katumbi, being accused of allegedly having played the go-between role by coercing goalkeeper, Elvis Chipezeze, to fix the match.
That the goalminder, who only played because first-choice ‘keeper, George Chigova, pulled out at the last-minute during warm-up with an injury, had a horror show, at fault in three of the four goals the Congolese scored, has provided fuel to the conspiracy theories that he could have been part of a dirty plot.
However, the Warriors have banded behind their teammate and spent the day yesterday exchanging notes questioning the allegations and wondering why their names were now being dragged through the mud.
Captain Knowledge Musona told his teammates, in those exchanges, he felt some people had always been trying to transform them into the fall guys of this AFCON campaign and the latest developments would deflect attention from the shortcomings of the other parties who contributed to the challenges they faced here.
Musona even went to the extent of telling his teammates he now believed they have always been an unwanted unit, by a constituency back in Zimbabwe, and the success stories they have written in the last few years, including ending 11 years of waiting for an appearance at the AFCON finals and qualifying for two successive editions of the tournament, delayed the mission of those desperate to tarnish their names.
The players said it was surprising that some of them could be accused of having been bribed by the Congolese, here in Egypt, when the same opponents had failed to do so when the Warriors went to Kinshasa, during the qualifiers of the same AFCON, and beat the Leopards 2-1.
The players also felt that it was ironic that Chigova was only embraced as a hero, when he saved penalties in shoot-outs as he did as the COSAFA Cup, and he would be viewed with suspicion once he revealed he was injured, during warm-up on Sunday, and could not represent the team in such shape.
Team manager, Wellington Mpandare, speaking on behalf of the Warriors after spending the better day of yesterday in consultations with them since the damaging allegations were published back home, said the players were challenging those who were making the claims to substantiate their case with solid proof.
“The players are saying they have been badly affected by what they have been reading, especially the allegations that they might have participated in something to shame their country and the fans whom they believe they have represented well in this campaign,’’ said Mpandare.
“They say they are challenging those who are trumpeting this case not to base it on hearsay but to provide concrete evidence to back their claims or else they should refrain from dragging their reputations through the mud.
“The players are happy that this tournament was held in Egypt, a country where virtually everything that happens would be captured by cameras, and are challenging those who are claiming there were some questionable events at their team hotel, where Moise Katumbi is said to have bribed any one of them, to go and get the CCTV footage which will be provided by the Meridien hotel to prove that such a thing ever happened.
“They are also disappointed that it has come to this because they believe that they have served their country well, even when they were not getting anything in terms of payments for their work during the qualifiers, where they lost only one match, drew one away from home and won against the same DRC in Kinshasa.’’
Mpandare also said that, contrary to what was being spread on social media, he never met Katumbi when he was on this tour of duty.
“I never saw or spoke to this Katumbi guy anywhere when we were in Egypt and that can also be confirmed, given the people who are spreading those allegations claim it was at the team hotel, through CCTV footage,’’ said Mpandare.
“Allegations that the team was bribed should not just be raised without evidence to back such things because such allegations have an effect on the players at their clubs because they lose trust and respect and that’s the worst that can happen to any professional footballer.
“We are destroying the reputations of our stars, when they didn’t do anything wrong, with such recklessness and, in future, don’t be surprised when many of these boys will say we don’t want to come and play for the national team because, when they lose, such things are said about them.
“The coach (Sunday Chidzambwa) was brave enough to say that it was his fault that the team lost and there were areas where he feels he can rectify given another chance and yet we want to destroy the careers of these boys.
“Do we ever consider that we had some injured players in our camp, who stayed around because they wanted to provide morale to their teammates and also be part of the history that we were chasing, and now these players are also part of the group that is now being accused.
“Some of them have been on the verge of completing moves to some big European clubs and this has a massive effect on their careers but, it appears, we don’t care about them and we are just happy to paint this group, as tainted, when they have done some amazing things for this country.
“One of the players even announced that he would give his teammates a financial bonus, if they beat DRC, to try and psyche them up to win the match, which shows you that everyone wanted to do well in that match, and now some people turn around and accuse them without any evidence to back those claims.’’