THE sight of jubilant Zambian players lifting the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) on Sunday night was greeted with joy by its neighbours, Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa.
But for us, Zimbabwe, the celebrations had a tinge of melancholy because we knew that it could have been us up there on the podium. The Zambia squad that had been crowned Kings of Africa was the same Zambia that we had beaten twice last year.
Man by man we were superior; their captain Chris Katongo cannot even untie Knowledge Musona’s sandals. What is it that Zambia have that we don’t – organisation.
Unlike us they had no match fixing scandal to grapple with, unlike us their players are not traitors. When they put on that jersey they sweat blood for national pride. Unlike us their Football Association does not depend on a rescue package from its President, Kalusha Bwalya like we depend on Cuthbert Dube.
While we cry for our beloved Warriors after 82 players were suspended for throwing matches for thirty pieces of silver, Zambia has given its players $US60 000 each for throwing their lives on the line to deny the Didier Drogba led Ivory Coast army a dance with glory.
It is no wonder Zambian players are the equivalent of soldiers in their native land; this is exemplified by Katongo who was promoted to Warrant Officer Class One by President Michael Sata and midfielder Nathan Sinkala from Corporal to Sergeant following his exploits in midfield.
While we are busy falling down the FIFA world and Africa rankings because of our stupidity – Zimbabwe is now number 99 in the world and 23 in African – Zambia who do not boast the talent we have are now 43rd best national team in the world and the fourth in Africa.
The trouble is that the one good thing that the Asiagate investigation did for Zimbabwe, albeit belatedly, was to remove the bad apples that had turned the national team into a bunch of underachievers. ZIFA realised that there was something amiss about the performance of the team and the subsequent suspension of the culprits has opened the way for untainted Warriors to restore the battered pride of the nation.
Rahman Gumbo and his assistant David Mandigora have accepted the interim posts of Warriors’ coaches on a wave of goodwill after Norman Mapeza and Joey Antipas were asked to step aside until the conclusion and passing of judgment of the Asiagate scandal. Their selection is flecked with approval, though it includes players who are almost over the hill.
Esrom Nyandoro has been recalled after a long sabbatical despite the well documented fact that he is no longer an automatic selection in the Mamelodi Sundowns first eleven. If critics are to be believed, Nyandoro is not quite convincing anymore and he is no longer able to cope with the pace and that is his undoing. He now comes up short against teams that play direct football.
His cataclysmic capitulation is said to be so bad that it almost defies logic, but Gumbo still sees a Warrior in him, so the safest thing to do is to keep the jury out and pass judgment after the Burundi match. In football a second bite of the cherry is now fashionable – Paul Scholes has been a beacon of light for Manchester United though he is 37-years-old. Nyandoro has the potential to justify his selection, he still retains that marvelous comfort on the ball, the coolness, the calmness and the collected attitude is forever imbedded in his DNA.
Nyandoro was, and, if he finds that inner man, still is that perfect national team midfield hybrid. He has the willpower to recover that bravery in the tackle, the eye for goals, and the defense splitting pass that made him for the national team what Yaya Toure is to Ivory Coast and Manchester City.
Dickson Choto of Legia Warsaw also makes a return from the wilderness after being ignored by Mapeza. After the emergence of Lincoln Zvasiya, (who is illegible because of Asiagate), Choto’s home coming feels like a throwback to a bygone era. But do we have a choice with Thomas Sweswe and Method Mwanjali suspended?
But from another viewpoint, Choto should never have been away, every time he was called upon he never disappointed, he defended exceptionally well with his Roll Royce type of defending. He is powerful, strong in the air and a good passer of the ball – qualities that are a requisite in Europe, qualities have made him stay at Warsaw while Herbert Dick was being offloaded.
With such a defender, partnered by Obert Moyo, who needs Sweswe and Mwanjali?
For left back and right back we still have Plymouth Argyle’s Onesimo Bhasera and Noel Kaseke of AC Omonia. Name full backs who are suspended who are better than these two, you can’t.
In goals, the loss of Washington Arubi is not huge by any means as Tapuwa Kapini who is the best Zimbabwean goalkeeper is still there. If he is injured, Marlon Jani is a worthy replacement and George Chigova, the third choice is a decent shot stopper.
In midfield the vacancies left by Khama Billiat and William Katsande will be the most hard to fill. In Billiat we had a magician who conjured moments of magic and who turned nothing into something when the Warriors were desperate for a hero to pull them from the jaws of defeat.
Katsande made us pine for the days of Ronald Sibanda with his radar-guided passes and for Lazarus Muhoni with his work ethic and the occasional goal.
Irreplaceable players indeed, but the emergence of Abbas Amidu, Denver Mukamba, Mandlenkosi Sibanda, Archford Gutu, the move of Vusa Nyoni from left back to midfield and the presence of Quincy Antipas means there will be no shortage of ball players. All these are crafty midfielders and on their day they are unstoppable and unplayable.
For solidity in midfield, Zimbabwe still has the services of Tinashe Nengomasha and Nyandoro. By a mile or two, these are Zimbabwe’s best defensive midfielders – the country is yet to unearth a worthy heir to their thrown.
Upfront, Knowledge Musona, the best thing after Peter Ndlovu, a player who single handedly almost made Zimbabwe qualify to this year’s AFCON, is there and ready to rumble. Though he is currently struggling at TSG Hoffeinheim, Musona never disappoints when representing his country. He is to Zimbabwe what Klose, a decent club player but a brilliant national team player, is to Germany.
Musa Mguni of Russia’s FC Terek Grozny is a veteran who has been in and out of the national team. A good striker, who has a good goal rate in Europe, Mguni has been presented with an opportunity, probably the last, to leave a mark in Warriors’ colours. If he sets his mind to it he cannot do, the talent is there. With his maturity and Musona’s searing pace, Zimbabwe has a capable strike force.
Gumbo’s selection is a sign that he believes in blending experience with players of promise and unless and until Asiagate is concluded and players who have been cleared of all charges return, this is the best team that Zimbabwe can assemble under the sun.
With more than enough preparatory time, good administration and resources, nothing can prevent this team from qualifying to the Cup of Nations in South Africa next year. And who knows, follow the footsteps of South Africa and Zambia to become the third Southern African country to hoist the trophy. After all this is football.