AT halftime the scoreboard read 3-0. After 60 minutes, it was 3-3. It’s a night I ended up being a “prostitute”.
By the end of the first-half on
Wednesday night I was already singing and poking fun at Liverpool fans — calling the Reds “Loserpool” — after AC Milan had raced to a 3-0 lead that I thought was enough for the Italian side to put “the small boys” in their right place.
But it only took six minutes of sheer magic by Liverpool for me to change sides. A classic header by Steven Gerrard, a long-range effort by Vladmir Smicer and a penalty rebound by Xabi Alonso were enough to lure me to the English side.
It was one of the greatest comebacks ever witnessed as we sat glued to our television screens to watch the 2005 Uefa Champions League final.
Whatever Rafael Benitez told his boys at halftime and whatever Carlo Ancelotti did not tell his men ensured an unforgettable night for all soccer lovers — be they in Liverpool, Milan, Istanbul — where the match was played — or Harare. It was a great match of two halves.
Those who were old enough to follow soccer in 1984 say they first saw Zimbabwe’s own Bruce Grobbelaar do it to win Liverpool their fourth European Cup. Twenty-one years later, gaffe-prone Jerzy Dudek was suddenly a hero after copying Grobbelaar’s antics between the posts by flapping his hands and gyrating to win Liverpool the coveted Champions League silverware by saving decisive penalty kicks.
If you missed the game, you missed a great performance by an underrated defender named Jamie Carragher, a sublime performance by Gerrard, while the introduction of Dietmar Hamman was just the tonic the Reds needed to win it.
To most of us who support Manchester United it was in the end probably a great consolation that an English team won — though my editor, a Red Devils supporter, could not even bring himself to talk about the match. He wanted Liverpool to lose!
So great was the match that even our chief executive officer, Raphael Khumalo — I didn’t know he loved soccer as well — came to my desk to chat about the unforgettable final. He said he had dozed off at halftime only to wake up 15 minutes into the second half to find the scoreboard unbelievably changed.
My colleague Godfrey Marawanyika was all smiles to the bank, while Dumisani Muleya was inconsolable after putting his money on the Rossoneris. I’m glad I had not bet my sweetheart, because honestly I would have gone for the Italian team.
But I would bet my last cent all “Chinamos” fans will never forget the day, because earlier on in the afternoon their team had just remembered how to win.
Chinamos, as Dynamos have been rechristened in these days when cheap-quality goods from China have flooded Zimbabwe, beat Black Rhinos 3-1 after enduring four consecutive losses in the premiership as well as being knocked out of the OK Woza Bhora Cup.
Jokes aside, it’s the spirit we saw in Dynamos on Wednesday afternoon that is needed in football. You could see the spirit in Givemore Manuella, affectionately known as Jaiziri, as he toiled all afternoon to claim a hat-trick that finally did it for DeMbare.
Black Rhinos showed the fighting spirit as well and were only left cursing their luck after failing to do one right thing — finding the net. But it remains to be seen whether Chipembere will have the right spirit after falling to a team even minnows such as Chapungu have humiliated.
I don’t know whether to call it the Liverpool spirit, but what I know is that it’s the right spirit that can do it anywhere in the world. Manchester United unbelievably did it in 1999 and Liverpool just showed they had lion hearts as well. It’s not over until it’s over.
We all hope the Warriors will have the right spirit next weekend when they host Gabon in a crucial World Cup/African Cup of Nations qualifier at the National Sports Stadium.
It’s not about big names just as Liverpool’s Sami Hyypia shut out Andriy Shevchenko, while Luis Garcia made Gennaro Gatusso look ordinary. Zimbabwe’s Zvenyika Makonese can shine and Shingi Kawondera can also seize the opportunity to show us what he is really made of when the Panthers visit.
I’m not over-optimistic, but I believe with the right spirit Zimbabwe can do it even if the Gabonese bring Portuguese-based Henri Antchouet and top scorer Theodore Nzue Nguema as well as Daniel Cousin of French Ligue 1 club Lens.
Many would be tempted to dismiss Gabon as mere pushovers after the Warriors forced a one-all draw in Libreville on June 5 last year. It’s easy to take the Panthers lightly if one looks at the way they struggled to another home draw against Angola before being wallopped away to the same Rwanda that Zimbabwe humiliated in Kigali.
It’s easy for the Warriors to get complacent next Sunday, thinking the mere presence of Peter Ndlovu or Benjani Mwaruwari will win the day for Zimbabwe.
But ask the Algerians. Yes, the same Algerians who reached the World Cup finals twice in the 1980s.
Algeria were shocked 0-3 at home in Annaba by the same Gabon Zimbabwe held in Libreville, the same Panthers the Warriors will host next Sunday. And it happened on the same September 5 afternoon that the Warriors were humiliated by a similar scoreline in Harare by Nigeria’s Super Eagles.
Those who watched the Gabon/Algeria match say they marvelled at the confidence and fighting spirit in young Catalina Aubame, once a French junior international and on the books at AC Milan, who scored a dream debut goal that left the Desert Foxes stunned.
Gabon’s coach Jairzinho, the fabled member of Brazil’s World Cup-winning team of 1970, might as well come to Harare believing his samba magic and the Panthers’ fighting spirit will work again.
But I believe Charles Mhlauri is a good coach who can make the Warriors believe they can do it. He did it when he transformed an ordinary Caps United into a trailblazing outfit that won the local premiership title with ease last year.
It’s sad poor preparations have always militated against Zimbabwe when it comes to international competitions, but the Warriors should not lose heart. It’s not over until it’s over.
Lying third in Group Four, Zimbabwe’s chances of a maiden World Cup berth are remote. And a place at the Nations Cup guaranteed to the top three teams in the group is not assured for the Warriors yet.
But the Warriors should just fight on. They should have the right spirit. They should believe. I’m not good at predictions and neither do I have total faith in the Warriors, but I know what is needed — spirit, spirit and spirit!