Pa­suwa’s Mi­das touch

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport - Rob­son Sharuko

CAL­LISTO Pa­suwa’s Na­tions Cup ad­ven­ture, which be­gan in com­i­cal fash­ion with his play­ers re­fus­ing to board the plane amid a re­bel­lion against a hap­less Zifa lead­er­ship, will end in a blaze of glory — and the pos­si­bil­ity of the coach set­ting an­other bench­mark of ex­cel­lence — on the shores of the At­lantic on Sun­day.

Pa­suwa’s War­riors have al­ready be­come the first troop of War­riors to qual­ify for the Na­tions Cup fi­nals, with a game to spare, and they could also be­come the first group of lo­cals to com­plete the cam­paign with­out los­ing a match should they avoid de­feat in Guinea in a match that will be broad­cast live, in the splen­dour of high def­i­ni­tion tele­vi­sion, on Su­perS­port.

The 46-year-old unas­sum­ing coach, who fi­nally ban­ished the ghost of fail­ure which had been stalk­ing the War­riors when it comes to the Na­tions Cup for 10 years, doesn’t seem to get the credit, let alone the re­spect, which he de­serves for trans­form­ing the for­tunes of a team that had seem­ingly per­fected the art of tor­ment­ing the souls of its loyal fans.

Even when he ended the Young War­riors’ 20-year wait for a place at the African Games show­case last year, elim­i­nat­ing Cameroon at the fi­nal hur­dle of the qual­i­fiers, Pa­suwa did not get the credit, let alone the re­spect, which his achieve­ments mer­ited.

But sta­tis­tics don’t lie and they paint a pic­ture of a coach, who prob­a­bly de­serves to be called a ge­nius when it comes to foot­ball coach­ing, and when the cur­tain fi­nally comes down on the 2017 Na­tions Cup qual­i­fiers on Sun­day, he could be the only one, in South­ern Africa, who would have man­aged to guide his team to the Promised Land of Gabon.

Scat­tered, among the ru­ins, will be the shat­tered dreams of the South African and Zam­bian fans, the only two South­ern African na­tions to be crowned cham­pi­ons of Africa, whose teams found the quest to qual­ify to Gabon a hur­dle too high for them to clear.

Bafana Bafana and Chipolopolo have only one vic­tory, each, from five qual­i­fy­ing games go­ing into the week­end matches.

Pa­suwa’s men were ranked 37th in Africa when the draw for the 2017 Na­tions Cup fi­nals was made, cast away in Pot Three where you found the ma­jor­ity of na­tions who were there just to make up the num­bers, which meant they needed to move moun­tains to make it among the 15 teams that would qual­ify to join hosts Gabon.

Zam­bia were ranked eighth, South Africa (14th), An­gola (18th), Malawi (25th), Mozam­bique (27th), Botswana (28th) and Le­sotho 30th, and were all ex­pected to do bet­ter than Zim­babwe while only Namibia (40th), Sey­chelles (42nd), Mada­gas­car (45th), Co­moros (48th), Swazi­land (48th) and Mau­ri­tius (51st) were ranked lower than the War­riors dur­ing the draw.

But the War­riors, thanks to Pa­suwa’s Mi­das touch and the com­ing of age of a gen­er­a­tion of foot­ballers who have hit the heights at just the right time, made a mock­ery of those rank­ings — which cast them as hope­less lightweights — and ham­mered Malawi, who were ranked in 25th place dur­ing the draw, 5-1 on ag­gre­gate, with back-to-back vic­to­ries over the Flames.

Those who have al­ways ques­tioned Pa­suwa’s pedi­gree will ar­gue that, more than the con­tri­bu­tion of the coach, this was the feat achieved by a team with some high-fly­ing play­ers whose game has ex­ploded with the ir­re­sistible Khama Bil­liat and Knowl­edge Mu­sona, who are ap­proach­ing the peak of their ca­reers, and the de­fen­sive qual­i­ties of Costa Nhamoinesu, play­ing a big­ger part in this suc­cess story.

But didn’t Khama Bil­liat de­stroy An­gola at Ru­faro, in the first leg of the fi­nal qual­i­fier for the 2013 Na­tions Cup fi­nals, which the War­riors won 3-1 be­fore the dreams were shat­tered in Luanda as the Palan­cas Ne­gras found a way to erase that deficit, win­ning 2-0 in their back­yard, to seal their place in South Africa on the away goals rule?

Surely, there is some­thing that Pa­suwa has added to this team and, if we can cel­e­brate the coach­ing skills of such icons like Pep Guardi­ola of Spain, and credit him for all that his teams have achieved un­der his tute­lage, it should only be fair we also do the same to one of our own who has shown he has the qual­ity of a ge­nius.

In­ter­est­ingly, Pa­suwa — just like Guardi­ola — is a young coach with the two gaffers born only six months apart, at a time when the foot­ball gods were prob­a­bly in the mood to cre­at­ing coach­ing su­per­stars, with the duo mak­ing their names, as play­ers, in the tough bat­tles of cen­tral mid­field, be­fore turn­ing their hands into coach­ing.

Guardi­ola won six league ti­tles, in­clud­ing four on the trot, and a Euro­pean Cup, as a player with Barcelona be­fore re­turn­ing to the Cata­lan giants to win three straight league ti­tles and two Uefa Cham­pi­ons League ti­tles as the head coach.

Pa­suwa won three league ti­tles, as a player with Dy­namos, and was part of the team that came within win­ning a fi­nal game to be crowned cham­pi­ons of Africa in 1998 only to lose the Caf Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal to ASEC Mi­mosas.

He re­turned to Dy­namos, as a coach, to in­herit a team who had lost their way, in the cham­pi­onship race,

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