Independent Sportview By Darlington Majonga
THE derision that greeted Zimbabwe’s loss to Malawi in their 2008 African Nations Cup qualifier last weekend has only further laid bare the ineptitude that football authorities have for long bee
n too happy to keep a public secret.
While the bellicose rhetoric has been justly targeted at the Zimbabwe Football Association for its blatant abdication of duty, Warriors coach Charles Mhlauri should not duck the flak for messing up big time.
Predictably, Mhlauri has sprung to his defence the customary excuses that lack of adequate preparations and funding militated against his brief to plot a victory for the Warriors.
Fair and fine, it’s something that we already know.
What we don’t know is whether Mhlauri and his Zifa bosses have the formula to bring back on track Zimbabwe’s campaign for Group 12’s sole ticket to Ghana.
While the Warriors were disgracing the nation in Malawi, Zimbabwe’s next opponents, Morocco, were camping in Europe in preparation for the March fixture.
That’s one of the lessons Zimbabwe’s football authorities have been hostile to — serious and proper preparations.
Look at Ghana, who are automatically in the 2008 Nations Cup finals by virtue of being the hosts. Last week they beat Japan in a friendly before overpowering South Korea in another friendly on Sunday.
The best Zimbabwe had before the Malawi match was a friendly against Zambia and participation in a four-team tournament in Mozambique. Then came the Cosafa Castle Cup semi-final against Angola.
But the biggest scandal is that almost none of the players involved in those assignments played a part against Malawi.
Simply put, those matches were as futile as an attempt now to bemoan shoddy preparations that no one dared talk about in the run-up to the Malawi match that was characterised by the customary “we are raring to go” mantra even when things were not okay.
Mhlauri’s trusted Warriors had last played a competitive match nine months ago when they mustered a fortuitous 2-1 win over World Cup-bound Ghana at the Nations Cup finals in Egypt.
But Mhlauri probably stretched his luck too far by imagining Malawi would be a pushover.
The fact that he was away for sometime in Germany for a coaching course at a time he was supposed to be preparing for the Malawi tie just goes to prove the lackadaisical approach Zifa strangely prefers towards national teams.
If it’s a shame that the ill-prepared Zimbabweans banked on “experience” against Malawi, then it’s outrageous that the Warriors hoped they would capitalise on the perceived disarray in the Flames camp triggered by the axing of their German coach Burkhard Ziese in the run-up to the match.
For goodness sake, the Warriors should have gone to Blantyre banking on nothing but good players as well as thorough preparations.
All the usual impediments that stymie Zimbabwe’s progress in football mentioned, it’s apparent Mhlauri got the script for the Malawi fixture terribly wrong.
Firstly, it would be ridiculous to expect the national team to hold camp for say two weeks. So under normal circumstances, players called for national duty should be those already thoroughly prepared at their clubs.
The national team camp should not be meant to get players fit or to inspire their form.
Sadly, we have a situation whereby Mhlauri vested the country’s hopes for a berth at the next Nations Cup finals in the hands of players whose competence and fitness leaves a lot to be desired.
Mhlauri probably has to explain why he thinks a number of his choices still merit starting places or worse still a jersey in the Zimbabwe senior national team.
Almost entirely the whole Zimbabwe squad is made up of players who at best are seeing little action as late substitutes or not at their respective clubs.
Clearly, if those players cannot command regular places at their clubs, there should be a special reason for having them in the team.
Mhlauri should desist from the practice of simply calling players because they are with foreign clubs. It’s appalling that he even does so without even the slightest clue how such players would be performing at the clubs.
It boggles the mind why a player who is struggling at his club would suddenly shine in national colours and we hope the Malawi debacle has finally driven home the point Mhlauri and his predecessors have been missing.
Surely we have on the domestic scene players who are better than Joel Luphahla, whose last contribution to the Warriors was his goal against Algeria at the 2004 Nations Cup finals in Tunisia.
If anything, what Luphahla needs now is not a position in the national team, but a refresher course in the basics of football.
Mhlauri should be brave enough to drop the likes of Tinashe Nengomasha, Shingi Kawondera and Edzai Kasinauyo if they are not in form.
This idea of having players in the national team for not their skills, form and fitness but their experience should be trashed.
It would also in the best interest of Zimbabwe, Mhlauri and the players concerned if he stops worrying about calling the likes of former skipper Peter Ndlovu, George Mbwando, Gift Muzadzi, Bekithemba Ndlovu, Charles Yohane and Gilbert Mushangazhike.
For interest’s sake, on which TV channel has Mhlauri watched Mushangazhike in action?
With appreciation to the dedicated service these players have provided Zimbabwe, wouldn’t it be better to leave them to ensure their “pensions” are in order in the twilight of their careers?
Starting yesterday, we hope Mhlauri — whose inclusion in the Warriors squad last year of players like Raymond Undi, Brian Badza and David Sengu was viewed suspiciously — will come up with proper player monitoring programmes that will ensure he selects the team on merit.
Zifa should also send Mhlauri to South Africa regularly where a host of our professionals are based.
For now we wait to see if Mhlauri will put the lessons he learnt in Germany to practice. He has all the time up to March when we play Morocco.
But more importantly, we wonder if Zifa will for once secure a friendly for the Warriors on November 15, the next day Fifa has set aside for international friendlies.
Should that happen — like South Africa has already confirmed a friendly on that date against Egypt in London — we wait to see who Mhlauri will select for that fixture and what it will mean to the national team.
Well, we have said enough lest some monster harass us — like she did to a Bulawayo journalist — for saying “rubbish” about “my man”!