Home » Sports » It’s Good to Be Optimistic and There Are Fewer Journalists Who Are As Optimistic As Charles Mabika When It Comes to the Warriors

“Ndipo paunonzwa mumwe munhu achiti inzwa ka CNN, todyiwa neTanzania, todyiwa neMozambique, kana kuti togona kudyiwa neSouth Sudan, haaa, musoro unobva watenderera Godfather, unotoshaya kuziva kuti zvinhu zvacho zviri kumbofamba sei.”

IN March 2010, a new zifa board took charge of Zimbabwe football — a World Cup was held across the border three months later and the draw for the 2012 Nations Cup finals threw the Warriors into a pool of the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde.

The Atlantic Ocean islanders, more than any other nation, would have the biggest impact, in denying the Warriors a place at the 2012 Nations Cup finals, after taking four points from us having forced a draw in Harare and secured a victory in Praia.

In March 2014, a new zifa board took charge of Zimbabwe football — a World Cup will be held across the Atlantic, three months after the leadership assumed office, and the draw for the 2015 Nations Cup finals have thrown the Warriors on a possible collision course with the Blue Sharks.

The more things appear to be changing, the more they remain the same.

In July 2010, the Warriors were ranked 110th on the Fifa rankings, only two places lower than the Blue Sharks, and in that month the Atlantic Ocean islanders appointed coach Lucio Antunes to take over as their national team coach.

By January this year, Antunes had left the Blue Sharks two months earlier, but there was no doubt that he had overseen a remarkable revolution, taking them as high as 35th on the Fifa world rankings, and fifth in Africa, in a transformation that was as eye-catching as it was refreshing.

What was even more astonishing about Antunes’ incredible revolution in charge of the Blue Sharks was that he wasn’t a full-time professional coach, like the majority of his counterparts, and would take days from his full-time job, as an air traffic controller at the Nelson Mandela International Airport in Praia, to coach the Cape Verde national team.

In sharp contrast the Warriors had, by January 2014, been guided by six different coaches — Norman Mapeza, Madinda Ndlovu, Tom Saintfiet, Rahman Gumbo, Klaus Dieter Pagels and Ian Gorowa — and, in four years, had only moved just five places up the Fifa world rankings ladder and were ranked 105th on the globe.

Despite the high coaches’ turnover, the Warriors have, in the past four years, failed to qualify for the Nations Cup finals twice and went through the painful emotions of their worst World Cup campaign since the national team’s return to the international football fold in 1980.

Last year, the Blue Sharks played at their first Nations Cup, in South Africa, with Cape Verde becoming the smallest country to feature at the premier football festival on the continent and, in Group A, which featured the hosts, Angola and Morocco, they were even the highest-ranked team.

They were impressive as they drew 0-0 against Bafana Bafana, drew 1-1 against Morocco and beat Angola 2-1 to make the quarter-finals where they faced Ghana at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth with the Blue Sharks having 16 attempts on goal, seven on target, while the Black Stars had eight shots on goal, two on target.

Somehow the Black Stars emerged triumphant, winning the tie 2-0, to end a successful debut campaign by the Blue Sharks at the Nations Cup finals.

They could even have capped their remarkable rise, as a major force in African football, by qualifying for the 2014 World Cup finals and appeared to have won their group when they shocked Tunisia 2-0 in Tunis before Fifa nullified that result, and gave the Tunisians a 3-0 win instead, after ruling that Cape Verde had used an ineligible player.

Cape Verde’s renaissance coincided with the entire lifespan of the old zifa board and no football nation, during the past four years, provides us with the perfect barometer of how much they have aanced, and how much we have stalled, trapped in a quagmire that freezes progress, in the last four years, than the Blue Sharks.

That the Blue Sharks were ranked just two places better above the Warriors, back then in July 2010 when they appointed Antunes as coach, can give us the liberty to suggest, without appearing foolish, that we were two football nations of equal strength back then.

But while Cape Verde have enjoyed phenomenal progress, within that period, the Warriors have stalled and find themselves having to play two qualifying rounds, just to play in the group games, something they were guaranteed in 2010, without having to deal with the headache of eliminating Tanzania and Mozambique.

Is Charles Mabika’s Optimism Justified?

Charles Mabika, the guru of football in Zimbabwe, repeatedly told the nation on Monday night, during ZBC’s weekly football magazine programme Game Plan, that the Warriors’ path to a return to the Nations Cup finals, after an eight-year absence, was clear and he doesn’t see any major hurdles along the way.

Mabika believes the Warriors will roll over Tanzania in the first round of the qualifiers in two weeks time and will crush either Mozambique or South Sudan in the next round to take their place in a group that features Cape Verde, Zambia and plucky Niger.

Mabika is normally optimistic, after all he is the guy who told us all those years back that “you never know with football”, and he believes with Ian Gorowa in charge, his beloved Warriors will not only clear the two qualifying hurdles with ease but will destroy the opposition in their group and take their place at the 2015 Nations Cup finals in Morocco.

Charlie believes the battle for top spot, in our group, will be between the Warriors and Cape Verde because he believes the Zambians, in the aftermath of their hugely emotional Nations Cup triumph two years ago and the loss of the coach who masterminded that success, Harve Renard, have taken too many steps backwards to be considered a force.

His argument could be backed by the way the Zambians struggled at the 2013 Nations Cup finals, in defence of their continental crown, when they somehow could not find their rhythm in South Africa and were eliminated in the group stages of the tournament.

They were held by Lesotho, in a 2014 World Cup qualifier in Maseru, and failed to beat Sudan home and away, in the same tournament, and even after being handed three bonus points for a game they had lost in Khartoum against Sudan, they still finished lower than Ghana in the qualifiers.

It’s good to be optimistic, and there are fewer journalists who are as optimistic as Charles Mabika when it comes to the Warriors, and even as I write this piece, you can see his big face on your television set, his light skin illuminating that screen and his big smile covering the whole width of the screen as he tells you “toirova Chipolopolo boys, toirova.”

Charlie, what a great fellow, and I can also hear him talking to me in the car park of the Pockets Hill studios at ZBC on Monday night:

“Ndipo paunonzwa mumwe munhu achiti inzwa ka CNN, todyiwa neTanzania, todyiwa ne Mozambique, togona kudyiwa ne South Sudan, haaa, musoro unobva watenderera unotoshaya kuziva kuti zvinhu zvacho zviri kumbofamba sei nhai Godfather.”

But it’s important to be realistic, too.

The mere fact that we have to play a preliminary round, not one but two, just to qualify for the group phase of the 2015 Nations Cup finals, tells us where we really stand today, as a football nation, and any suggestions that we are a heavyweight, just to give ourselves the comfort that such a camouflage brings, will not only be wild but clearly misplaced.

Four years ago we didn’t need to play a qualifier to be in the group phases for a place at the 2012 Nations Cup finals and I will always argue that if our football leaders didn’t mess up that campaign, by airlifting Saintfiet from Namibia to disturb a coaching team that had the capacity to take the team forward, which cost us maximum points against Cape Verde at home, the entire aenture could have turned out differently.

But that is the past, it can only give us lessons to shape our future, and it was refreshing to hear the zifa leaders, one after the other, conceding that they did not perform to the nation’s expectations when they tried to fast-track Saintfiet’s appointment into the Warriors and let him start his job, even without a work permit.

The present has thrown us a showdown against Tanzania and while my colleague Charlie tells the nation that it’s a done deal, we will win that game come hell, come sunshine, I am a bit cautious because I have seen timu ya soka ya Taifa grow in leaps and bounds in recent months and while we might be the favourites, we will have to sweat for our victory.

They have hired a shrewd Dutchman, Martinus Ignatius “Mart” Nooj, who has travelled extensively in Africa, and was the mastermind behind Mozambique’s resurgence when, after a 12-year absence from the Nations Cup finals, the Mambas qualified for the 2010 Nations Cup finals edition in Angola.

Millions of dollars have been poured into Tanzanian football in recent years, in a deliberate plan to create a very competitive national team, and there has been a response from the players who have lost only one, of their last seven competitive matches, that Cecafa semi-final loss to eventual winners Kenya.

They beat Zambia at the Cecafa tourney, on penalties after a 1-1 draw, they beat Uganda in the same tournament but it was during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers last year that they made me stop and take notice of the remarkable progress they have made in the past few years.

The Taifa Stars beat Morocco 3-1 in Dar-es-Salaam in March last year and beat Cameroon 1-0 in the same city in two huge results that showed the world that, in their backyard, they are no longer the whipping boys that they were when big money wasn’t oiling their football machine.

Any team that thrashes Morocco 3-1 and beats Cameroon, who will be at the World Cup in Brazil next month, should be taken seriously and such results should provide a timely reminder that playing the Taifa Stars won’t be a stroll in the park for our Warriors.

The Teenage Generation We Have Abused

On June 16, last year, Tanzania gave a debut to a 17-year-old midfielder, Mudathiri Yahya, in their match against the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, which the Taifa Stars lost 2-4 at home.

That the Tanzanians are now able to field a raw 17-year-old into their national team for a match against a team that many people believe is the best on the continent provides another huge statement of the productivity of the nurseries that are being watered, on a daily basis, by the big money that is being poured into their junior football structures.

Airtel, the international mobile telecommunications giant, has been a big player in providing the money that is going into the development structures of Tanzanian football.

But while all our eyes have been on the Warriors, and the possible hurdles that they need to leap to get to Morocco, something important has been happening in African football and, sadly, we are not part of the show and we won’t be part of the show when the next one gets underway next month.

Last weekend, the second legs of the first round of the 2015 African Under-20 Championships, were played across Africa and 30 African nations were in action with the best of their teenage football talents not only parading their skills but also flying their national flags.

Tanzania were involved and they beat Kenya 4-3 on penalties, to aance to the next round, Mozambique were also involved and beat Namibia 4-2 to set a second round date against Zambia, Malawi were also involved and beat Botswana 3-2 and now face the DRC, Lesotho were also involved and beat Swaziland 4-2 to set up a date against the DRC and even lightweights like the Seychelles were also in action.

Poor Somalia, for all the problems that are haunting that ill-fated nation, didn’t only assemble a team of their best teenage footballers but realised the wisdom, and importance, of fielding it in this competition and even though they were hammered 0-6 by Sudan, in a one-legged tie, the point is that they took part.

The problem is that our Young Warriors were not in action and it doesn’t only mean they will miss the African Under-20 Championships in Senegal next year but they won’t battle for a place at the Fifa Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand in the same year.

Last year, our football leaders told us that our Young Warriors were not banned from international tournaments in the wake of the Under-17 and Under-20 teams’ failure to fulfil their second leg qualifiers against Congo (Brazzaville) and Angola and used their participation in the cosafa youth championships as proof that our junior national teams were free to play on the big stage.

But if our teams were free to compete why then are they not part of those who are competing?

The problem with the junior national teams is that, once you take away that window period, when they are supposed to make full use of the international exposure offered by playing in such international tournaments, you cannot make up for that.

How do we then build a future, for our football, when the best of our teenage talent is not playing in such competitions, as part of their development into senior players, and are only confined to what is offered on the domestic Premiership, for those lucky enough to get into a first team, or Division One?

Next month, on the weekend of June 13-15, the first round of the 2015 African Under-17 Youth Championships will get underway and Mozambique will play Namibia, Seychelles will play Uganda, Zambia will play Botswana, South Africa will play Tanzania and they will all be starting a journey that could end up with them playing at the African Under-17 Championships in Niger next year and, ultimately, the World Under-17 Championships in India.

Again, when you look at the fixtures, you don’t see the Young Warriors and being inactive now means that they will be inactive next year, and possibly the year after, and by the time we return to the big stage, a whole generation of footballers, who could have benefited from playing international football at Under-17 level, would have lost that golden opportunity for good.

The problem with this is that it has a negative effect on the players, as and when they graduate to play for the senior national team, because without the exposure of having played international football at a certain age, they will certainly be found wanting, missing something important, when they play for the Warriors.

This is what worries me Charlie, and brings in this wave of pessimism, because you and me knew Joel Shambo, Moses Chunga, David Mwanza, Stix Mtizwa, Stanley Ndunduma, Madinda Ndlovu, you name them, were footballers who could one day be trusted to be real Warriors when we saw them playing for the Young Warriors.

Positive Signs Coming From 53 Livingstone Avenue

There are some people who have come into our football leadership who want to make a difference, play their part in taking the game forward, and they have started very well by thrashing out a deal with the then unsettled Warriors coach, Ian Gorowa, and securing his services until the end of the 2015 Nations Cup qualifiers.

These are men, with a helping hand from a woman who intends to leave her mark on the game, who put the interests of their country first and knocked down the hurdles, one after another, until they got Gorowa to agree to stay, even though he hadn’t been paid a cent from the five-month salary arrears that he was demanding, convincing him that they will help protect his interests.

No one lied to the other party, no one promised the other party heaven and earth, they told Gorowa, in no uncertain terms, that there was no money right now but if he wanted to walk with them, money would be found, in due course, and his financial commitments would be met and all they wanted was for him to give them a Warriors side that will compete very well on the big stage.

zifa vice-president, Omega Sibanda, has been on a charm offensive, telling the media that he is here to make a mark, and drive football forward, and he wants a united football family and not one fractured by camps and factions that do nothing but derail the game’s progress.

Ben Gwarada doesn’t want anything to do with failure, he will tell you he never tolerated failure in his private business which he has grown from nothing into a giant, Miriam Sibanda was a journalist before she became a businesswoman and knows fully well the need for her organisation to have a good image, for the sake of sponsors, Twine Phiri wants the progress that has been seen at the PSL extend to the main wing and Fungai Chihuri wants progress and nothing else.

One gets this feeling that Jonathan Mashingaidze, the zifa chief executive, has either to change, to embrace the new dispensation that puts football ahead of petty personal fights, or the new organisation will change him.

To God Be The Glory!

Come on United !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Text Feedback — 0772545199

WhatsApp Messenger – 0772545199

Email — robsharuko@gmail.com

Skype — sharuko58

Like my new Facebook page, ROBSON SHARUKO JOURNALIST, follow me on Twitter @Chakariboy, interact with me on Viber and on ZBC’s weekly television football magazine programme, GamePlan on Monday nights, or read my material in The Southern Times.

Source : The Herald