D-Day looms for Sunday, so it’s from hero to zero
A WEEK is a long time in politics and two weeks in football can transform someone from a national hero to a zero.
Take Zimbabwe coach and former national team captain and centre-back Sunday Chidzambwa (formerly Marimo) for example.
On July 9, the southern African nation won the regional Cosafa Cup a record fifth time by surprising favoured Zambia 3-1 in the final in the South African platinum mining belt.
Chidzambwa, as quiet and humble a person as there is in African football, was feted by his countrymen and branded a hero.
Instead of being sidelined in favour of another former Zimbabwe star, Rahman Gumbo, for the African Nations Championship (Chan) campaign, the Cosafa Cup-winning coach was retained.
Cosafa and Zimbabwe football boss Philip Chiyangwa ditched, at least temporarily, the musical-chairs approach to coaching the national teams.
Since coach Kalisto Pasuwa quit after a firstround exit from the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, Zimbabwe divided the job in three.
Norman Mapeza, yet another ex-national team star, was put in charge of the 2019 Cup of Nations squad, Gumbo got the Chan post and Chidzambwa the Cosafa job.
But after a 1-0 defeat in Namibia last weekend - the first Chan qualifying loss suffered by Zimbabwe since their 2008 debut Chidzambwa is in danger of a downgrade from “hero” to “zero”.
It was bad enough losing to an early second-half goal from Hendrik Somaeb at Sam Nujoma Stadium in Windhoek, but Zimbabwe failed to score with a Talent Chawapiwa “goal” disallowed.
Namibia can, provided they score at least once, afford to lose by a one-goal margin at the National Sports Stadium in Harare and still qualify on the away-goal rule.
So Zimbabwe and Chidzambwa face a rockand-a-hard-place challenge of needing to score at least once while knowing that conceding just one could be fatal.
It was a praiseworthy win by the “Brave Warriors” as feuding among football association and league officials in Namibia has meant virtually no top-flight domestic football for more than a year.
Zimbabwe apart, the form book proved reliable in the Chan south zone as the biennial competition for footballers playing in their country of birth got underway in earnest.
Zambia thrashed off-form Swaziland 4-0 in Lobamba with Cosafa absentee Clatous Chama bagging a brace, making the Lusaka return match the “dead rubber” of all dead rubbers.
Angola won in Mauritius, makeshift South Africa triumphed in Botswana and Mozambique drew in Madagascar, making the now home-based trio favourites to go through.
There is still all to play for in Maseru, though, where the traditionally hard-topenetrate Comoros defend a 2-0 advantage over often goal-shy Lesotho.
Ethiopia are Centre-East zone “bankers” having left perennial whipping boys Djibouti with a 5-1 lead, and Rwanda and Uganda also seem likely qualifiers having drawn away.
Burundi host Sudan in a first leg delayed because the visiting nation had just been unbanned by Fifa and did not have sufficient time to prepare and travel.
In the west, it is hard to imagine Benin, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal not emerging aggregate winners and reaching the final qualifying round next month.