THERE is no denying that the year 2017 was a gripping season for football in the country, with plentiful memories that will linger long.
BY HENRY MHARA
The Warriors’ participation at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Gabon before winning the Cosafa Cup, Caps United’s fairy-tale run in the Caf Champions League and FC Platinum clinching the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League title for the first time in their history, are some of the major highlights of the year.
NewsDaySport looks back to the year 2017.
This was a fairly good season for the country’s flagship football team who began the year with an appearance at the Afcon main stage in Gabon in January after a decade on the periphery. This was the team’s only third appearance at the continental showpiece in the country’s entire history, making it to the tournament finals after easily qualifying from a group which also had Malawi, Swaziland and Guinea.
The build-up to the tournament was chaotic, for a lack of a better word, for the Warriors. There was no proper training camp to prepare the team for such a big tournament and the situation threatened to generate into anarchy when players refused to board the plane to Libreville protesting over the size of their reward. But after the intervention of the government where an allowance of $5 000 per match was offered, the situation normalised.
Having failed to go beyond the group stages in their only two previous Afcon appearances, the Warriors fans, for all the problems in the team’s camp, were still hopeful that the squad, arguably the best the country had assembled in the new millennium, would still deliver the goods.
The Kalisto Pasuwa-coached side were grouped against powerhouses Senegal, Algeria and Tunisia in Group B.
Zimbabwe came within minutes of causing a major upset in their opening match against Algeria as they produced a whole-hearted performance before conceding a late Riyad Mahrez goal to draw 2-2 against the North Africans.
The gallant performance by the Warriors in the match, gave the nation hope going into the last two group matches.
But they were brought down to earth by a star-studded Senegal side whose 2-0 win did not tell the full story as this could have been a huge embarrassment.
To put things into context, Warriors goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva was voted man of the match.
It didn’t get better really against Tunisia in the last group match where Zimbabwe lost 4-2 having gone into the match with slim hopes of qualifying to the knockout stage.
Skipper Willard Katsande immediately announced his retirement from international football, he later announced that he was coming out of retirement but no one paid attention.
Norman Mapeza was appointed as the interim coach in the following months to take care of the Warriors’ next assignment, a 2019 Afcon Group G opening qualifier against Liberia in June which Zimbabwe convincingly won 3-0, Knowledge Musona scoring all the goals to top the group which also has the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo.
In July, more success was realised by the team when they won the Cosafa Cup in South Africa under another interim coach, Sunday Chidzambga, beating old rivals Zambia in the final played in Rustenburg, South Africa. He was rewarded for that triumph when he was given the mandate to take charge of the Chan qualifiers. Zimbabwe performed dismally, as they fell to Namibia in the initial stage.
There was good news for the Warriors in November when the British-born Zimbo quartet of Kundai Benyu, who plays for Scottish giants Celtic, Tendai Darikwa of Nottingham Forest, Macauley Bonne of Leyton Orient and Leicester’s Admiral Muskwe confirmed their allegiance to Zimbabwe.
They arrived in the country for two friendlies against Lesotho and Namibia, losing both matches. Zifa technical adviser Wilson Mutekede was in charge of the two friendlies as the association battled to secure a substantive coach, a post which was finally handed to Chidzambga this month.
The Green Machine at its best
Against all odds, Caps United qualified to the group stages of the Caf Champions League in what is, so far, the biggest achievement in the club’s history. They accounted for Lesotho’s Lioli in the competition’s preliminary round, before bundling out fancied TP Mazembe in the first round to go through to the group stages where they were grouped with heavyweights Zamalek of Egypt, USM Alger of Algeria and Libya’s Al Ahli Tripoli.
The Green Machine opened their group stage campaign with a 2-0 defeat away to Zamalek, but recovered to beat USM Alger 2-1 at the National Sports Stadium.
Their campaign went off rails when they recorded back-to-back defeats to Al Ahli Tripoli with an identical 4-2 scoreline.
They had their revenge on Zamalek whom they beat 3-1 with Abbasi Amidu outstanding in the match as he netted a double to give his side faint hopes of qualifying to the quarter-finals. But the campaign ended in despair following a 4-1 defeat to USM Alger.
While the team failed to qualify to the last eight, they benefited immensely for reaching the group stage.
Besides the huge financial windfall that comes from Caf for reaching this stage, the club also benefited from player sales.
Amidu was immediately snapped up by Entag El Harby of Egypt while Ronald Chitiyo joined a club in Tunisia. Roving leftback Ronald Pfumbidzai signed for South Africa Premiership side Bloemfontein Celtic.
FC Platinum won the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League, narrowly edging Dynamos in an intriguing title race that was decided on the last day of the season. The Zvishavane side managed 72 points, two more than Dynamos, as they become the first team outside the two big cities Harare and Bulawayo to win the premier league title.
It was a memorable season for Mapeza’s men who also won the Castle Lager Challenge Cup, beating Harare City in the final.
Mapeza was named the coach of the year for leading his club to glory while the team’s midfielder Rodwell Chinyengetere scooped the Soccer Star of the Year gong as the club deservedly made a clean sweep of all the top awards that were on offer.
Defender Kevin Moyo was voted the Soccer Star’s first runners-up while Dynamos’ Ocean Mushure got the second runners-up medal.
FC Platinum will represent the country in the Caf Champions League next season as a reward for winning the title. Sadly, there would be no representative in the Caf Confederation for Zimbabwe next season after Harare City, who won the ticket after winning the Chibuku Super Cup, pulled out.
The ugly side of the beautiful game
The Castle Lager Premier Soccer League marked the silver jubilee this year but the celebrations were tainted by isolated incidents of hooliganism. A league match between Highlanders and Dynamos at Barbourfields early in the season was abandoned in the first half following crowd trouble. There was also chaos when Highlanders visited Mandava Stadium to face FC Platinum, the match abandoned with a few minutes remaining, again, for similar reasons. A Chibuku Super Cup match between Caps United and Shabanie Mine was also ended prematurely as fans ran amok.
Caps United players were also accused of destroying property at Baobab Stadium following their draw against hosts Ngezi Platinum.
The match between Dynamos and Ngezi Platinum at the same venue also turned messy, while Chicken Inn were charged by the PSL for walking out of the field in their Chibuku match against Yadah. Dynamos striker Christian Ntouba planted his head in Highlanders defender Peter Muduhwa’s chest live on television.
Young Warriors are a worrying lot
For a successive year, the Zimbabwe Under-20 boys failed to go beyond the group stage of the Cosafa Under-20 Cup, held in Zambia this month. They scored just one goal in the tournament, in a 1-0 win against Angola. The other matches were goalless draws against Lesotho and Namibia. The Under-17s coached by Moses Chunga, also fared badly at the Cosafa Under 17 Championships in Mauritius in July, where they crashed out in the group stage.
What a Marvelous year for Nakamba
One Warrior, Marvelous Nakamba, and a Mighty Warrior, Rutendo Makore, made huge breakthroughs in the careers. Nakamba signed for Belgian giants Club Brugge in a reported €4 million deal in June, switching from Vitesse.
He reportedly snubbed offers from giants Juventus, AC Milan and Besiktas and chose a club were he is guaranteed game time. He has been a revelation since joining the club, winning the player of the month in September. He has started in 17 of the 19 league games for his club who are currently top of the league table.
His move is the biggest transfer for a Zimbabwean player this year.
His impressive performances have seen him being linked with big European clubs, with reports that English Premiership giants Liverpool are seriously considering him.
Makore made her own history by becoming the first Zimbabwean football player to break into Europe.
The bustling striker signed for Spanish league side Sporting Club de Heulva in November. Makore was the star for the Mighty Warriors at the Cosafa Women Championships in Bulawayo where the team finished as runners-up.
Dr Phil claims Hayatou’s scalp
Zifa president Philip Chiyangwa for a while was the toast of African football when he masterminded the fall of long-time Caf president Issa Hayatou, who had been at the helm for 29 years.
Chiyangwa took on Hayatou both in public and private space and canvassed support for Ahmad Ahmad, who took over after beating the veteran Cameroonian administrator.
Chiyangwa was threatened with suspension ahead of the elections, but he fought gallantly until Hayatou tumbled. Chiyangwa himself recorded personal success after he was appointed to several Caf committees as well as getting voted the Cosafa president.