EACH step forward they make is followed by another step back ward.
BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
Just when everyone thinks they have it in the bag, it stubbornly eludes them.
It has been the same sad story for the Warriors since independence.
They just failed to soak up the pressure on the big moment — a propensity which has earned them the unwanted label of “The nearly men of African
The Warriors have gained notoriety for bringing down its passionate supporters’ hope from the top to the floor.
Zimbabwe still has sad memories of 1991, when a horrendous howler by goalkeeper John Sibanda at home presented Congo with a neatly wrapped gift to earn a share of the spoils and a ticket to the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals.
Two years later, when they needed a win against Zambia at the National Sports Stadium to make it to the biennial soccer showcase in Tunisia, the Warriors allowed Kalusha Bwalya a free header to level the scores after the Warriors had raced into the lead through Henry Mackop.
And that dream was buried.
After having stunned spectators of the African game, when they defied odds staked against them to overcome highly-rated Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) 2-1 in their own backyard last month, the Warriors needed a victory of any margin in the return leg at home to qualify with two games to spare.
Sunday Chidzambga’s men, however, couldn’t just absorb the pressure from their home fans after they were held to a 1-1 draw.
Another opportunity was blown.
The Warriors were now pinning their hopes in the next match against Liberia in Monrovia, where they needed at least a draw to sew up the campaign.
That seemed an easier task given that this is the same team they had defeated 3-0 in Harare in the opening match of the campaign, with skipper Knowledge Musona scoring a memorable hat-trick.
However, the ghost that has haunted them in big moments like these returned as they suffered a dispiriting 1-0 defeat courtesy of a strike by skipper William Jebor 18 minutes from full time, leaving them with all to do in the decisive qualifier against Congo-Brazzaville at home next year.
The Warriors were, however, the masters of their own downfall in Liberia, as they had dominated for long periods in which they carved out good opportunities only to be let down by poor finishing, with Tino Kadewere the chief culprit.
The French-based forward spurned two gilt-edged chances which could have seen the Warriors kill off the game, while Ovidy Karuru struggled to impose himself on the match.
Despite the stumble, the Warriors maintained their lead in Group G with eight points, while Liberia are now second with seven and DRC third with six.
Congo-Brazzaville are at the bottom of the table with five points.
The development has thrown the race for the ticket wide open again.
The Warriors now need to win against Congo-Brazzaville in Harare in March next year to qualify as group winners, while a draw will suffice for them to take up the second slot.
In the worst case scenario, the Warriors can qualify even if they lose to Congo-Brazzaville provided the other encounter between DRC and Liberia ends in a stalemate.
Two top teams from each group qualify for the 2019 Afcon finals to be held in Camreroon.