War­riors shine de­spite loss

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport - Rob­son Sharuko

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.

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