Warriors shine despite loss
ZIMBABWE’S Warriors might have stumbled at the final hurdle, in search of an unbeaten record in the 2017 Nations Cup qualifiers, but their loss in Guinea on Sunday night will not dent a spectacular campaign in which they provided the light in the darkness cast throughout Southern African football by a tsunami of failure.
Callisto Pasuwa and his men could not match the Dream Team’s exploits, of completing a Nations Cup campaign without losing a game, after falling in Conakry following a nervy — if not comical — first half display, which followed chaotic travel arrangements that only saw them arriving in Guinea on Match Day.
In punishing conditions on the shores of the Atlantic, where the humidity levels were as much a test for the Warriors as were their opponents, Pasuwa’s men staggered in the gloom of a forgettable first half littered with basic errors, a crippled midfield, an uncoordinated attack that lacked both penetration and conviction and a nervy defensive line that was all at sea.
With a number of fringe players being thrown into the starting XI, in the absence of injured, suspended or rested regulars, the Warriors were a poor imitation, in that first half, of the side that defied the odds, and a decade-long tradition of failure, to secure their 2017 Nations Cup final ticket with a game to spare.
In an error-strewn first half, Tafadzwa Kutinyu, a rookie at this level of the game, was swallowed by the unforgiving intensity of the midfield battles, Blessing Moyo’s positional indiscipline kept leaving gaps down the right channel of the defence while Lawrence Mhlanga provided the height, and muscle, in central defence but not the ally Costa Nhamoinesu had found in the injured Elisha Muroiwa.
Evans Rusike could not make an impact on the wide channels, where a lot of trickery is needed, and while Cuthbert Malajila put in another spirited shift, his contribution lacked a cutting edge upfront and his
STGreassignment into a deep midfield role in the second half was as surprising as it was ineffective.
But, a team whose preparations were at best a joke and, at worst, a mockery to their pursuit of greatness which their trip to Guinea represented, with the flight to Conakry only being confirmed at the last minute after Government’s intervention to prevent a calamity, was always likely to struggle, especially in the absence of a number of regulars.
And, if the upright had not conspired to deny talismanic forward Knowledge Musona, in a second half in which the Warriors improved in leaps and bounds and would have been full value for a goal, or two, or if Tendai Ndoro had not messed a great run on goal with a heavy first touch, in a game in which he was off colour, things could have turned differently for the Warriors who dominated after the break.
The defeat in Conakry meant the current generation of Warriors failed to match the Dream Team, who completed their 1994 Nations Cup qualifiers unbeaten, thrashing South Africa 4-1 along the way, but — unlike Pasuwa’s men who will dance with the heavyweights of African football — Reinhard Fabisch’s troops came short of qualification after being held to a 1-1 home draw by Zambia.
But the events in Guinea, where Zimbabwe are yet to win a match, will not put a dent to a spectacular qualifying campaign in which the Warriors defied the odds and provided one of the motivational sound tracks, to the battle to qualify for the 2017 Nations Cup finals in Gabon as they topped their group and won with a three-point cushion.
It’s the first time the Warriors have topped their group in a Nations Cup campaign.
Zimbabwe will be the only Southern African nation at the 2017 Nations Cup finals in Gabon after traditional regional heavyweights, Zambia and South Africa, fell by the wayside with doomed missions in which the two countries, combined, won fewer games (two matches) in this campaign than the Warriors who won three of their six games.
BAFANA Bafana are winless, in a competitive match, at home since November 2014 when, fired up by the raging spirit provoked by the killing of captain Senzo Meyiwa, they beat Sudan in Durban.
The Warriors are the only Southern African nation to take their points tally, in the 2017 Nations Cup qualifiers, into double figures (11) with Swaziland coming second with eight points while South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique ended their campaign with seven points with Comoros, Lesotho and Madagascar only getting three points.
We are the only Southern African country to record more than two wins, during the 2017 Nations Cup qualifiers, with the Warriors winning half of their six qualifiers (three), while Swaziland, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and Mauritius (have two wins each) are second on the table with South Africa and Zambia winning just one game each during the qualifiers.
Zimbabwe are the only Southern African country to take their goal tally into double figures, during the 2017 Nations Cup finals, after Pasuwa’s men scored 11 goals in six matches with Musona and Billiat, who scored six goals between them, scoring more goals, than nine Southern African nations — Mozambique (five), Botswana (five), Namibia (five), Malawi (five), Seychelles (five), Madagascar (five), Lesotho (five), Mauritius (three) and Comoros (two).
Musona and Billiat scored as many goals, six, during the qualifiers as Swaziland while the entire Zambian team scored just one goal more than the Warriors’ duo.
Only Algeria (25), Tunisia (16), DRC (16), Ghana (14), Senegal (13), Mali (13) and Benin (12) scored more goals, throughout the continent, than the Warriors during the current qualifiers.
The Warriors also had the best defence, in Southern Africa, after Pasuwa’s men conceded just four goals while South Africa (six goals), Zambia (seven goals), Mozambique (seven goals) and Comoros (seven goals) also did well defensively with Lesotho having the worst defence after conceding 16 goals.
Zimbabwe’s goal difference (plus seven) was the best in Southern Africa, by a country mile, with only South Africa (plus two) and Zambia, who scored as many goals as they conceded, not having a negative goal difference.
Given all this, there is certainly more to celebrate from the Warriors’ adventure than concentrating on the gloom sparked by that narrow defeat in Conakry.