Let’s show them we are true War­riors

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Comment & Opinion -

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.

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