What started off badly, at home, has ended badly away.
That is the sad story of Zimbabwe’s failure to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finals after going down 2-1 to Cape Verde Islands in the final qualifier on Saturday.
The Warriors finished the race in third position with eight points, Cape Verde were second on 10 and Mali won Group A with 10 points, but had a better head-to-head record against the island nation after they drew 2-2 with Liberia.
After Williams Dioh opened the scoring, Cheick Diabate replied before Cedric Kante gave Mali an 87th-minute lead.
But Patrick Wieh’s injury-time equaliser failed to stop the Eagles reaching their third finals in a row.
The islanders were 2-0 up after 13 minutes, thanks to goals from Valdo and Ryan, before Knowledge Musona reduced the deficit from the penalty spot after 68 minutes.
It all started on October 7 2010 at the National Sports Stadium when the Warriors drew 0-0 against the Cape Verde after a whole week of guessing who would take charge of the team.
This was the Warriors’ second qualifier after they had drawn 1-1 away to Liberia in the opener, a very commendable result under Norman Mapeza.
Belgian Tom Saintfiet had been recommended by a technical committee set up by Zifa, but was denied a work permit after starting work without getting the relevant documents, leading to his eventual deportation for violating immigration laws.
Mapeza and Madinda Ndlovu were then jointly placed in charge of the team for the match, but the former was always the crowd favourite and literally took charge of the match at the National Sports Stadium. The match ended 0-0.
After the chaos, Zifa president Cuthbert Dube took matters into his own hands and handed Mapeza full charge — due to popular demand — of the team after Ndlovu had been given the task of taking charge of the locally-assembled squad that went to the Chan finals in Sudan, in February.
His first task after the Cape Verde draw was the 1-0 loss to Mali away on March 27. But two consecutive wins against Mali (June 5, 2-1) at home and Liberia (September 4, 3-0), put the Warriors back in contention for a third appearance in Africa’s top competition.
All that was left was for Zimbabwe to beat Cape Verde on Saturday and with Mali drawing 2-2 in Monrovia, the Warriors could have finished with 11 points and secured a ticket to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
In fact, the Warriors could have gone into the match as group leaders on 10 points had they won last year’s home match against Cape Verde.
Skipper and defender Method Mwanjali, better known as a mid-fielder at Hwange and Shabanie Mine, played two bad balls to Khama Billiat and goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini and those are the goals that set back the Warriors and they failed to recover.
His first ball to Billiat was intercepted by right wingback Gege who played in winger Odair whose final pass was squeezed into the nets by Valdo. In the second instance, a back-header to the keeper was intercepted, this time by Ryan Mendes, who easily beat Kapini.
At such levels of football, playing away from home, Mapeza should simply have organised a fightback, perhaps by switching from the usual 4-4-2 formation to a 3-5-2 to add more men into attack for it was vital to pull a goal back before half-time.
That did not happen and the first substitution took place after almost an hour with Tafadzwa Rusike coming in for Nyasha Mushekwi and Cuthbert Malajila later coming in for Tinashe Nengomasha after 78 minutes. With the score at 2-1, both substitutes added the much-needed urgency, but well, Murphy’s Law says if anything is bound to go wrong, it will.
And it ended in agony for Mapeza and Zimbabwe.