After a failed mission in the second edition of the 2011 African Nations Championships (Chan) in Sudan, the Warriors were ranked 11th after winning one and losing two of their group matches, to rank outsiders Niger and South Africa.
According to Caf rankings after the group stages, the Warriors were better-placed than West African giants Ghana, who went home without a point from three matches.
Ivory Coast beat Mali 1-0 but then lost two other matches, 2-1 to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and 2-0 to Cameroon, while Mali drew 1-1 against DRC and lost 1-0 to Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
The Warriors lost the opening match 1-0 to Niger, but bounced back to beat Ghana 1-0 to remain in contention. But, despite taking a second minute lead against South Africa in the decider, Zimbabwe eventually lost 2-1 to bow out of the competition last Sunday.
On the same night, Orange-sponsored Niger were writing their own piece of history when they beat Ghana 1-0 to qualify for the quarter-finals.
In fact, this was Niger’s first ever participation in any tournament in Africa and the country’s football association seemed to have done their homework to make sure their debut was not embarrassing.
First, they made sure the team had a credible name as they roped in Orange as kit sponsors, coupled with good finances and proper management.
While other pundits might view Chan as a useless tournament, particularly in those countries where government takes little notice of football and results are not always forthcoming, it should be remembered that there is no other stage for local players to shine against the best in Africa.
The very fact that Orange, Nasuba and Stanbic found it worthwhile to pour in millions of dollars into the competition and had it expanded from eight to 16 teams, spoke volumes about the grand plan to expose local players.
The cream of Zimbabwe team that ensured the Warriors’ qualification for the second edition of Chan got that final exposure and sealed deals with South African clubs before the tournament kicked off, but there is no doubt they could even have attracted European interest had they been in Sudan.
These include Mamelodi Sundowns’ trio of Method Mwanjali, Lionel Mtizwa and Nyasha Mushekwi, AmaZulu’s Ramson Zhuwawo, Tafadzwa Rusike of Ajax Cape Town and Cuthberth Malajila, now playing in Libya. Now this is a team that could have done wonders in Sudan because the talent was just immense.
In 2009, when the team was under Sunday Chidzambwa, Malajila, Thomas Sweswe and Zhaimu Jambo, now at Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa, Oscar Machapa of Moroka Swallows and Ovidy Karuru, now playing for Boulogne of France, were part of the squad.
Zimbabwe had the strongest team then which managed three draws against Libya, Ghana and eventual champions DRC, but failed to reach the knockout stage.
In 2011, caretaker coach Madinda Ndlovu had the best of the local talent in addition to Under-23 players Joel Ngodzo, Simba Sithole, Denver Mukamba, Archford Gutu, Arial Sibanda and Qadr Amin but still, like Chidzambwa before him, only managed three points and no place in the knockout stage.
The outcry has been familiar with calls for Ndlovu to quit and for the Cuthbert Dube-led Zifa board to appoint a substantive coach and understandably so.
But at this stage what would a substantive coach, let alone a caretaker one, achieve when the real damage to the Afcon 2012 campaign was done last October when the Warriors drew 0-0 against Cape Verde Islands at the National Sports Stadium?
While the national association could be busy trying to deal with issues that will not develop the game, the strength of the local football league, the Premier Soccer League under the leadership of Twine Phiri, also comes into question.
The league has no sponsor, clubs are struggling financially and two franchises are up for sale with one already gone and there is nothing that can motivate players. Basically, there is no reward for competitiveness.
In Kenya, the football federation has struck a deal with Supersport for the live broadcast of their games and that means clubs get monthly grants to keep them afloat.
The same deal was signed in Zambia and in addition, Football Association of Zambia president Kalusha Bwalya had ensured that national team kit sponsor Nike also sponsored all teams in the premiership.
So Zambia is basically Nike country! And we are labeless! What a shame!
In Niger, national coach Harouna Doula put it this way in a recent interview with Cafonline:
“The real success came with the arrival of new leadership at the helm of the federation in 2009. The management regained serenity.
“Internal disputes created a difficult atmosphere and everyone handled his little problems without focusing on football. Then the championship became a 100% national championship.
“Our players are professionals; they are paid and are given bonuses for successes. That would not have been possible without the intervention of the federation which signed an agreement with a transport agency. All teams of the championship are also transported.”
Without a strong base to draw talent from, the statistics that say Zimbabwe has failed to reach the knockout phases of Chan on two occasions under Chidzambwa and Ndlovu will remain.
Remember, facts and figures do not lie!
The nation demands victory, but is it prepared to pay the prize?