ZIMBABWE finally remembered how to win a football match in their final Group B match, with a valiant 2-1 victory over Guinea at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) on Tuesday.
It was their first win in 15 matches since that narrow 1-0 away win in Botswana that effectively booked the country a ticket to the finals.
The country also won its first match at the Afcon finals since the famous 2-1 victory over Ghana on January 31, 2006, which perhaps explains why the triumph over Guinea was much celebrated.
While the Warriors are being hailed for leaving the tournament with their heads held high, the win over Guinea was painful in more ways than one.
It was painful because it came at a time when the team had already crashed out of the competition, which made the result immaterial to the country’s Afcon interests.
Although the result reflected on what the Warriors are capable of when pitted against some of the top teams on the continent, it also opened the wounds of that disastrous defeat to Malawi and the heartbreak of that last-minute loss to Senegal in the first match after proving to be more than a match for their much more fancied opponents.
Not many people felt that Zimbabwe would progress to the knockout stages of the competition after the team was drawn in Group B alongside Senegal, Guinea and Malawi.
While the general sentiment was that the Warriors, led by coach Norman Mapeza, had adequate preparations for the tournament compared to previous campaigns, the environment was not conducive for the players because of the fight between the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) and Zifa.
SRC suspended the Zifa board in November for a number of alleged transgressions with regard to their management of the game in the country.
Based on Fifa’s zero tolerance to any form of government interference in the running of the game, there was genuine concern about the country being hit with sanctions by the world football governing body.
Until the first match of the competition, there was uncertainty surrounding the team’s participation at Afcon.
And, with hindsight, this was the biggest factor that contributed to the team’s poor performance in the two matches.
Thus, the blame for the team’s performance should rest squarely on the SRC’s shoulders.
In spite of the fact that there were no side shows with regards to allowances and match fees this time around, the squabbles between SRC and Zifa diverted the squad’s focus on playing football.
Ultimately, we remain where we have always been as a football nation: perennial underachievers while minnows such as Malawi took the opportunity to shine at our expense.
Now is the time to introspect and get some things right in how we run the game in this country and nobody must escape accountability, especially Zifa, SRC and the responsible ministry.