Group of hope

BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA

ZIMBABWE might finally break the long-standing hoodoo of failure to qualify for the World Cup finals after they were drawn in Group G that contains the Black Stars of Ghana, neighbours South Africa and Ethiopia in what appears on paper a fair draw than what it could have been.

The Warriors have never qualified for the greatest soccer showpiece in their history with their bids often failing at the last hurdle. Not even Reinhard Fabisch’s great squad of the 1990s could bring smiles on millions of success-starved fans. They have over the years struggled to banish the tag of “the nearly men of African football’.

But yesterday’s draw provided slim hope for Zimbabwe as they bid for a dream that has been stubbornly elusive over the course of time.

While they are in a pool which contains Ghana and South Africa, two of Africa’s football giants who have been through the mill having qualified for the global soccer showcase with Ghana even making history when they reached the quarter finals only to be eliminated by Uruguay in controversial circumstances, they are not invincible.

The Black Stars have qualified for the World Cup tournament on three occasions in 2006, 2010 and 2014 but this is the same team that still has sad memories of their last encounter with the Warriors after they were edged 2-1 by the then Charles Mhlauri-coached side at the 2006 African Cup of Nations finals in Egypt.

It was the second time the Warriors were making their appearance at the tournament. That the Warriors once beat their more fancied opponents who are the favourites on paper to make it to Qatar gives them the much-needed conviction that they can do it again.

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Neighbours South Africa also still have vivid memories of the harsh lesson they were taught by the Warriors when they were clobbered 4-1 although they were just returning from international football isolation due to apartheid.

Circumstances though have changed over the years as the two neighbours have gone head to head in their battle for supremacy in the region.

The Warriors still have scars of that brutal 2-0 defeat in a World Cup qualifier in 2000 at the National Sports Stadium when 13 fans perished in a stampede after Benni McCarthy’s middle finger gesture following Delron Buckley’s brace angered the fans who responded by throwing missiles onto the pitch.

South Africa also won the Africa Cup of Nations trophy when they hosted the tournament in 1996, which speaks volumes of their pedigree. The draw brought together 40 teams from across the continent which were placed in 10 groups of four teams each.

Zimbabwe are returning to the World Cup after missing out on the 2018 edition owing to a Fifa ban after they failed to pay former Brazilian coach José Claudinei Georgini, nicknamed Valinhos.

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