Pasuwa’s Midas touch
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,