Let’s show them we are true Warriors
A FTER a lengthy and frustrating 11-year wait, tomorrow we will get the chance to see our beloved Warriors plunging into battle on the big stage of the African Cup of Nations when they take on continental heavyweights Algeria in the opening match of their Group B adventure in Franceville, Gabon.
Analysts have dubbed it a proverbial David versus Goliath battle, with our boys being labelled the rank underdogs who will need, if you listen to some of the commentators, a miracle just to escape with a draw against the Desert Foxes who, just a few months ago, were ranked by Fifa as the number one football nation in Africa.
Admittedly, this Algerian side has a lot of quality players, notably 2016 African Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez, who was also honoured as the best footballer in the English Premiership last year after, leading Leicester to defy insurmountable odds and be crowned league champions in one of the greatest fairy-tales ever written in world football.
But, if our boys needed any inspiration that nothing is impossible in this game, then the tale of coach Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes in somehow finding the strength and endurance to outlast heavyweights like Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, should provide that wave of hope.
After all, we are not in Gabon on invitation, but on merit, having won our qualifying group, with a game to spare, the first time we have qualified for the Nations Cup finals as group winners, and surprising the world by ensuring that we beat the highly-favoured Guinea for a place at these finals.
When the draw for our qualifying group was made, our boys were ranked as the weakest team, even weaker than regional rivals Swaziland and Malawi, with all the analysts and commentators saying that Guinea, who had reached the quarter-finals at the last Nations Cup finals in Equatorial Guinea, would stroll through to Gabon.
But Callisto Pasuwa and his men showed the world that rankings are just mere numbers, which have little relevance when the game gets underway, and after defeating Malawi home and away, taking four points from Swaziland, including a 4-0 thrashing of Sihlangu in Harare, and taking a point off Guinea, we secured our ticket to Gabon.
Khama Billiat came of age, during that qualifying campaign, finally showing all the potential that we knew he had when he first emerged on the scene, and — at times — was virtually unplayable while Knowledge Musona, as he has always done when it comes to playing for his country, shone brightly like a beacon.
The arrival of the tough Costa Nhamoinesu, whose game has been improved significantly by constantly playing in the Uefa inter-club competitions for his Czech side Sparta Prague, gave us the strength that our defence had always been crying out for while Dutch-based midfielder Marvellous Nakamba added a lot of value to our engine room.
It’s unfortunate that Nakamba will miss the first game against Algeria, as he serves a one-match suspension for the yellow cards he accumulated during the course of our qualifying campaign, but Danny Phiri showed — in the friendly against Cameroon in Yaounde this week — that he can be a worthy replacement in that midfield.
There is no question that our attack, which scored seven goals in their last two home qualifying matches, can match any at this tournament and respected analysts like Nick Saidi, who has been covering the game for a very long time from his base in South Africa, are conceding just as much with Billiat being named as one of Africa’s best 11 players last year.
And, if our charges can compose themselves, which they have been telling us they will, and ensure they are not consumed by an inferiority complex, we are confident they can stand toe-to-toe against the Algerians tomorrow and ensure they build a strong foundation for their Gabonese adventure.
We believe there is something special about our team, and that is why we have always stood in their corner, and they demonstrated enough character, during the qualifiers, including conquering the adversity that came with the challenges that kept plaguing their camp, and beating Malawi in their backyard just hours after a tortuous road trip from Harare, to make us believe they can fly our flag high in Gabon.
They say to be the best, you have to beat the best, and while some people say we were unlucky to be thrust in a group that has heavyweights like Senegal, who are now the top-ranked nation in Africa, and the tenacious Tunisians, but we like the challenge and we urge our boys to embrace the tough examination that will come their way for, only then, can they tell that they have really come of age.
We are proud of our Warriors because, by being the only team from Southern Africa to qualify for the 2017 Nations Cup finals, they have already made our country proud and what is left is for them to now show the world that their qualification was no fluke and they have the pedigree to do very well in Gabon.
Their fans have waited a long time for this, stuck with the team when it was struggling in the darkness, and the time has come for the Warriors to repay that trust by writing success stories in Gabon.