Independent Sports View With Dalington Majonga
THE moment we heard Akwa would be spearheading Angola’s quest for the Cosafa Castle Cup, so vapoured our little optimism in the home brew Charles Mhlau
ri had taken to South Africa for the regional tournament last weekend.
There was every temptation to disparage Mhlauri for having the temerity to summon only players on the domestic scene for Zimbabwe’s quest for regional supremacy. We had every reason to fear the Warriors would be reduced to mere also-rans at the lucrative tourney.
No one believed in the second-string side and we could have been parochial to see a lost opportunity to hone the senior team barely a fortnight before a crucial World Cup/African Nations Cup qualifier against Rwanda in Harare.
We felt this was a prospect lost for the perennially cash-squeezed Zimbabwe Football Association to rake in a windfall as much as it was a chance for the fringe players to prove their mettle.
The saga over Mhlauri’s alleged bias towards Caps United players – in particular out-of-sorts Raymond Undi and Leonard Tsipa – ensured the people’s interest in the four-team gala waned.
We presume many didn’t even bother to watch the semi-final against Angola on television – but that was only until the Warriors had shocked the fancied Black Antelopes 2-1 to book a place in the final against Zambia’s Chipolopolo.
Though played in a virtually empty stadium in Mmabatho, back home the final suddenly attracted millions who sat glued to their television screens.
Unsurprisingly many still doubted the Warriors would fell the Chipolopolo.
But as the match wore on, we found every reason to believe the second-stringers were impregnable as well, and a fantastic Francis Chandida strike four minutes from time capped a fine afternoon for Zimbabwe. We had done it for the third time in the cup’s short history.
Fielding a locally based side with no exceptional stars, Mhlauri took the opportunity to prove his shrewdness as a tactician. His formula seemed to work perfectly as we saw basic football and teamwork do it for Zimbabwe.
Mhlauri fielded Gift Muzadzi, Gift Lunga, Method Mwanjali, James Matola, Herbert Dick, Ashley Rambanapasi, Clement Matawu, Givemore Manuella, Ronald Sibanda, Francis Chandida, Sageby Sandaka, Brian Badza and Leonard Tsipa.
Congratulations to the Warriors and their coach Mhlauri, but we’ve got every reason to believe our Cosafa success may be futile in the long run.
First of all, the Cosafa Castle Cup was inaugurated primarily as a developmental tournament that would give an opportunity to nascent talent.
With all due respect, a cursory look at most of the players who featured in the final last weekend suggests half of them might have little left in them to offer the national team in the near future because of their ages.
While Mhlauri used a squad that could have the likes of Muzadzi, Matola, Dick, Sibanda and Badza fighting for places in the senior team for the impending World Cup fixture, most of the players might only live to cherish the Cosafa medals as the climax of their careers.
Though the Cosafa tournament proved a perfect stage for Badza and probably Cephas Chimedza to market their talent to better and professional leagues, the same can’t be said of some of the players whose shelf life is nearing expiry.
South Africa have often been lambasted for “not taking the tournament seriously” by fielding third-string sides made up of greenhorns, but we believe they are the only country sticking to the original purpose of the tournament.
Mhlauri seems to be tracking those spoors after picking only locally based players, but we hope in future he will focus on genuine youngsters as well as really promising players for the regional tourney.
Age cheating keeps haunting our soccer. We don’t want a situation where we “develop” players who might no longer be good enough or would have retired should their chance with the senior national team come, say, in five years’ time.
It’s appalling that in Zimbabwe not only do we have clubs not keen to promote youngsters, but administrators who connive with the players to alter their ages. It’s little wonder all the “young” stars that represent the country at junior competitions fizzle out before even realising their potential.
They are cheats but they will never cheat football. A player has to be nurtured from a tender age and that will certainly benefit the national team as he matures with age and experience.
While with lure of the rand there is every temptation to field experienced professionals in the Cosafa Castle Cup, it’s better to nurture young players and give them a chance even if it might be at the expense of the title.
That’s the only way towards development and continuity.
We wouldn’t want to put that opportunity to develop and expose players to waste as has been happening. We won’t even bother to mention the Young Warriors who have played for the country in the Under-17, 20 and 23 age groups in recent years, for there’s little to remind us of those “promising stars”.
A perusal of the archives of our involvement in the Cosafa Castle Cup since its inauguration in 1997 shows how we have inadvertently rendered our successes futile.
When we won our first Cosafa title in 2000, then coach Misheck Marimo fielded the following team: the late George Mandizvidza, Thulani Ncube, Kaitano Tembo, Mlungisi Ndebele, Bekithemba Ndlovu, Dazzy Kapenya, Callisto Pasuwa, Master Masiku, William Mugeyi, Nqobizitha Ncube, Robson Chisango, Luke Petros, Alois Bunjira and Benjani Mwaruwari.
But five years down the line, is it not worrying that only Mwaruwari still has something to offer Zimbabwe on the international stage? As for the rest, it’s either they have quit football or are no longer good enough or too old for national duty.
In 2003, we won the trophy again courtesy of the presence of current skipper Peter Ndlovu, Energy Murambadoro, Dumisani Mpofu, Bhekithemba Ndlovu, Dazzy Kapenya, Zvenyika Makonese, Esrom Nyandoro, Ronald Sibanda, Richard Choruma, Calisto Pasuwa, Charles Yohane, Albert Mbano and Agent Sawu.
Without doubt Murambadoro, Makonese and Nyandoro are still integral members of the national team, but the likes of Yohane, Mpofu, Bhekithemba and Sibanda no longer have age on their side.
The saddest thing in this whole fiasco is that we are left facing the stark reality of our domestic football. It seems like there are no deliberate efforts by clubs themselves to promote genuine young players to realise their potential.
It’s miserable when the selection of national teams becomes so predictable simply because there’s a dearth of talent when we have 16 top-flight teams as well as 60 division one sides. Do we have any youth policy?
Something somewhere is wrong, and we all know what it is. Let’s get our priorities right lest we render our Cosafa success futile.