The Zimbabwe Warriors brought smiles on the face of a nation still trapped in the mire of political, economic and social crises – a nation currently mourning the hundreds who succumbed to the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai, which also displaced thousands. STEWART MUSARAPASI tells us how important and settling that 2-0 win was for Zimbabwe’s soccer lovers.
JOHANNESBURG – The Zimbabwe men’s senior national soccer team avoided the stressful Afcon qualification system of using calculators for permutations, when they won resoundingly against Congo Sunday.
In need of just a draw to make it to the Egypt 2019 edition of Africa’s ultimate soccer showcase, the Warriors settled all nerves when they raced to a 2-0 lead at halftime, leaving the Congolese with an unenviable – ultimately impossible, task of having to score three goals without reply in the remaining 45 minutes of that away fixture.
It was arguably the first time Zimbabwe dictated qualification pace and put themselves on an even-keel from the first fixture – The Warriors’ historic maiden appearance of Tunisia 2004 coming at the back of Gabon exuding a sportsmanship display to hand Zimbabwe the qualifying ticket as best runner up.
The national team was again under the command of the same Sunday Chidzambga who has managed to record two of the only four qualifications Zimbabwe has ever made to the biennial platform.
Sunday’s match against Congo Brazzaville proved true the adage “ wine gets better with age” as the build up to the 2019 Afcon finals qualifying matches ended on an exciting note with Zimbabwe topping Group G with 11 points – two clear of second-placed DRC.
The build-up to that sweet victory was pure novelty – Khama Billiat driving home a free kick, after Marrin Bandry fouled Marshall Munetsi just outside the box. The free kick was a screamer which left the Congo keeper stunned, as Khama tactically curled the shot past the wall into the nets in a display which proved his worth among the highly-paid players in South Africa’s Absa Premiership. The stadium rose into celebrations as an outright win seemed guaranteed.
The silent assassin Knowledge Musona settled matters then capitalized on a Congo defensive blunder by Congolese defender Fernando Mayembo.
One of Musona’s key points is poaching those loose balls and he proved that when he punished the visitors exactly 10 minutes before going to the breather. The packed stadium went into ecstasy as the Egypt 2019 Afcon was then sealed off safely away from checking other group matches to throw permutations.
Breaking a Jinx
By winning against the Congolese, The Warriors actually broke a jinx. The two sides had met three times before, with the first game played on September 1990 in Central Africa – Zimbabwe lost 2-0. The return fixture happened in July 1991 at the National Sports Stadium, ending in a 2-2 draw (denying warriors then an outright win for Afcon qualification back then).
The last encounter came in September last year in the current Afcon qualifying campaign, The Warriors managing to hold the hosts to a 1-1 draw in Brazzaville.
Below are the coaches who have managed to take Zimbabwe to the Afcon finals so far. The road to the 2006 finals in Egypt was paved by Rahman Gumbo, while Charles Mhlauri was appointed to take over midway, after Gumbo was unfairly dismissed by Zifa.
Coaches behind warriors Afcon qualifications are as follows:
2004 Tunisia Afcon – Sunday Chidzambga
2006 Egypt Afcon – Rahman Gumbo/Charlse Mhlauri
2017 Gabon Afcon – Callisto Pasuwa
2019 Egypt Afcon – Sunday Chidzambga
For a nation still trapped in the mire of political, economic and social crises – a nation currently mourning the hundreds who succumbed to the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai, which also displaced thousands, this victory gives us at least one thing to smile about. Go Warriors Go!
Facebook; stewie musarapasi