Home » Sports » We Have Come a Long Way… Warriors Inch Closer to a Century of Nations Cup Matches

THE Warriors will tomorrow move within just two games of completing a Century of Nations Cup matches hoping that they live to fight another day and celebrate that grand milestone in August with a ticket to the group battles for a place in Morocco next year. When Ian Gorowa and his men plunge into war against the Taifa Stars at the National Sports Stadium tomorrow, the Warriors would be playing their 98th Nations Cup tie in an aenture, spread over 34 years, which started against Malawi on October 26 ’80.

Had three of their Nations Cup matches not been nullified, the Warriors would have completed the milestone of a Century of Matches in the competition two weeks ago in Dar es Salaam when they lost to Tanzania in the first leg of these elimination duels.

That would have meant that the Warriors would not only have used tomorrow’s showdown against the Taifa Stars to celebrate that milestone, at home with their fans, but would also have opened a new chapter as they took the first step towards the second century.

Records will show that the Warriors played their 100th Nations Cup tie in Tanzania two weeks ago, but three of those contests — two against Lesotho in the battle for the ’96 Nations Cup and one against Sudan in the ’98 qualifiers — were nullified when the opposition withdrew.

Fate hasn’t been kind to the Warriors in the Nations Cup and their heartbreaking story of all those near misses has been told over and over again, but nothing captures their lack of luck, when it comes to this tourney, better than those three nullified games in the ’90s.

On all three occasions, the Warriors had won and they didn’t only lose six points against Lesotho but saw the seven goals they had scored (2-0 in Harare and 5-0 in Maseru) being wiped away after the Crocodiles pulled out six games into the qualifiers.

The Sudanese had crashed to a 0-3 home defeat at the hands of the Warriors, then coached by Bruce Grobbelaar in a caretaker capacity, at the start of the ’98 Nations Cup campaign but, when they pulled out, it meant that Zimbabwe’s aantage of an away victory, in such a difficult place, was lost.

The Warriors have lost two of their last three World Cup qualifiers at home, being thrashed by Egypt and losing to Guinea at the National Sports Stadium, but in the Nations Cup, they appear to fare better on home territory, which could open a window of hope for their fans going into tomorrow’s tie.

It’s now 10 years since the Warriors lost a home Nations Cup qualifier when Jay Jay Okocha and his Super Eagles came to town in September 2004 and ran out comprehensive 3-0 winners at the giant stadium.

That humiliation completed a horrible three-year spell in which the Warriors lost their aura of invincibility at home in the Nations Cup, after having lost to minnows Lesotho 1-2 at the National Sports Stadium in January 2001 and lost by the same scoreline to Ghana in Harare five months later.

When they slumped to that shock home defeat in 2001, the Warriors had gone for 19 years without losing a home Nations Cup assignment, having last lost in Harare in September ’82 against Malawi.

In 46 Nations Cup assignments played at home, the Warriors have only lost FIVE times against Zambia (’81), Malawi (’82), Lesotho (2001), Ghana (2001) and Nigeria (2004).

The statistics will show us that the Warriors are unlikely to lose their Nations Cup assignment against Tanzania tomorrow but, even if they win, the big question is that can they keep the clean sheet which might prove the difference between seeing them go through or falling at this hurdle?

Their last five home Nations Cup matches provides a glimmer of hope as they have only conceded two goals — one against Angola in a 3-1 win at Rufaro and one against Mali in a 2-1 win at the same stadium.

Crucially, their last three home Nations Cup matches at the National Sports Stadium have seen the Warriors managing to come out with a clean sheet, something that is needed tomorrow, and Cape Verde, Burundi and Liberia all failed to score.

The Burundi match, the last Nations Cup qualifier played at the giant stadium, was an eliminator, just like tomorrow’s match, and was a nervy affair with the East Africans, who had won their home tie 2-1, needing just a goal to dump the Warriors. But, somehow, the Warriors survived and Knowledge Musona’s 36th minute goal proved enough for a priceless 1-0 win which helped the team qualify for the next round on the away goals rule.

A single goal won’t be enough to send the Warriors through to the next round and our assignment will be further complicated by the fact that a 2-0 lead tomorrow won’t settle the nerves inside the stadium, given that all it just needs, even in the dying moments of the game, would be for the Taifa Stars to score an away goal that would dramatically change everything.

The Warriors have to win tomorrow, and qualify for the next round, to give themselves a chance to celebrate their milestone of a Century of Nations Cup matches within the next two months in which the 100th game could come in the decisive second leg tie for a place in the group stages of the 2015 Nations Cup.

Anything else will not only be disastrous but will see the Warriors waiting, for another two years, to clock a Century of Matches in the Nations Cup finals and, by then, they would have spent 10 years away from African football’s biggest festival.

When you drift so far away from the big boys and when your last dance with the tournament would have been a first round elimination, the first time you suffered such humiliation in 32 years, then even reaching a milestone of a Century of Nations Cup Matches won’t be something worth grand celebrations.

That’s why, at all costs, it’s important for the Warriors to survive tomorrow.

Source : The Herald