BY MICHAEL KARIATI
So, after all the speculation over a Fifa ban, the Warriors of Zimbabwe are still in Cameroon and are tomorrow ready to kick off their 2021 Afcon campaign against a talent-laden Teranga Lions of Senegal.
It has been a difficult and divisive time, one in which the whole of Zimbabwe and the Warriors themselves were not sure whether Zimbabwe would — after all — be part of this 24-team continental football gathering.
Such has been the state of affairs but with the tournament’s opening game set for today, there is no way that Fifa at this stage will throw the Warriors out of Afcon 2021 as this would throw the whole competition into disarray.
Surely, the game against Senegal would not have been the start the Warriors would have wanted as patriotism aside the Zimbabweans are facing defeat although they might avoid total humiliation.
Even bookmakers are prepared to offer odds that the Warriors will not stand a chance by offering a 73 percent chance of the Teranga Lions winning the game compared to Zimbabwe’s 27 percent.
There is also a 63 percent chance that in their win Senegal will score more than two goals.
The fact remains that defeat against the Lions of Teranga will be hard to avoid and the focus will be on how the Warriors will build on from that first match for the coming games against Malawi and Guinea.
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A lot has happened with injuries to Marvelous Nakamba, Perfect Chikwende, Brendan Galloway, and Marshall Munetsi, and the withdrawal of Khama Billiat, and Tendai Darikwa, but the rules are clear that Zimbabwe must compete irrespective of whom they select to play.
Surely losing such a high number of high profile players is a big blow considering the fact that they are almost half of the team that helped Zimbabwe qualify for the finals but what else can the country do under such circumstances.
History has its own uses and on that premise, it should be remembered that in 1993, Zambia lost its entire squad in an air crash off the coast of Gabon but still managed to build a new team that reached the 1994 Afcon final before narrowly losing out 2-1 to Nigeria.
From the outset, Norman Mapeza’s team looks weak but in reality a team with such players as captain Knowledge Musona, Teenage Hadebe, Tino Kadewere, Jordan Zemura, Prince Dube, Kelvin Madzongwe and Onismo Bhasera, should be able to handle and overcome the likes of Malawi and Guinea.
Surely, enough talent still floods in the Warriors changing room as the absence of Nakamba and company has also helped to open up new horizons for the likes of Kundai Benyu, Ishmael Wadi, and Admiral Muskwe, who were overlooked in the past but now have the chance to prove a point.
Musona, Thabani Kamusoko, Bhasera, Never Tigere, Bruce Kangwa, Godknows Murwira, and Kuda Mahachi, are also playing in probably their last Nations Cup finals and should be hungry to leave a mark to be remembered for years to come.
Also of importance is the fact that the Warriors do not have money issues as was the case in the last edition in Egypt and should be able to perform freely and normally without pressure over bonuses.
Team manager Wellington Mpandare reports that morale is high in the camp as the $1 million from the government is enough to take care of the Warriors welfare, appearance fees and winning bonuses — that is if they manage to win any of their games.
That Norman Mapeza is leading the team is not by accident as he is widely regarded as the best coach around but he should be warned that he will lose all the respect he has should the Warriors lose to Malawi on January 14.
No excuses or mitigating factors will be entertained since he selected the team, the money for bonuses is available and all the teams at the competition did not play many friendlies and – just like Zimbabwe — were also affected by Covid 19.
Mapeza should also be told that there is nothing like building for the future when a team qualifies for a major tournament like Afcon and failure to produce results will mean he will never get another chance to handle the Warriors again.
That might look cruel but that is what football is all about. Coaches stay on their jobs because of good results and are fired if they fail to deliver.
As the Nation’s Cup gets into gear, there are too many doubting Thomases and the Warriors have to prove that they are good if not better than what some think they are.
Surely, the Warriors might be disabled but let us give them the benefit of the doubt at this Afcon 2021.
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