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Show us what you learnt in Tunisia

With Darlington Majonga

IF some Warriors were so desperate to be considered for the historic Tunisia finals that they could attempt to bribe the technical team with hi-fi’s and home theatre systems, I wonder

how far they have gone this time round to have a run against Nigeria.

With 26 players – including 18 foreign-based professionals – in camp for Sunday’s crunch 2006 World Cup/African Cup of Nations qualifier against the Super Eagles, it doesn’t need a prophet to tell how the Warriors have been jostling to make the final 18-man squad.

But most players I know definitely needed prophets, or rather sangomas, to fancy their chances of donning Zimbabwe’s gold-and-green strip this Sunday.

For a man who is around 40, Rahman Gumbo has certainly seen much as a football coach and former midfield star himself.

Gumbo, who I remember well wailing uncontrollably after being red-carded for blasting the ball into the net after the whistle had gone in a Warriors match in the 90s, is undoubtedly a good coach. He is yet to lose a match, although points he has, since taking over from his former boss Sunday Chidzambwa (Marimo).

Zimbabwe’s hopes rest on Gumbo’s shoulders, and the decision to field who and drop who lies entirely in his hands.

However, although far younger than Gumbo, I haven’t seen much to tell the Warriors coach how to do his job. It will be akin to a Zimbabwean telling an Italian how to make pizza!

But there’s no doubt I’ll be among the loudest to criticise Gumbo should his charges embarrass the nation on Sunday against the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

It’s every Zimbabwean’s dream to see talismanic Nigerian skipper Jay-Jay Okocha and his star cast reduced to mere schoolboys struggling to grasp the basics of football.

There’s no doubt Gumbo has endured severe headaches trying to finalise his squad for Sunday’s crunch qualifier. And there’s no doubt the mentor has puffed more cigarettes than he has ever done in a week before.

However, Gumbo’s dilemma over his final 18 is of his own creation. And I don’t feel sorry for him even if his head is about to crack.

Honestly, how does Gumbo justify plucking some old war-horses on the road to retirement when it’s clear they have little or absolutely nothing left in their old bodies to offer the country?

We have in the Warriors camp players who are not only too old to keep the industry of the younger Super Eagles in check, but who have found themselves excess baggage at their clubs.

What does a player like Kaitano Tembo who has struggled to feature for his club – where he’s rather being advised to consider coaching – have to offer our Warriors? We all recall the big man sprawling and even deliberately handling the ball under pressure in a crucial game as long back as in January.

Even our dear brother Adam Ndlovu who used to bang in the goals – he has no hunger anymore, or rather age has naturally slowed him down.

It’s good for some of these gentlemen to retire when we still need them.

Zinedine Zidane is 32, but he has retired from international football not because someone can fill his big shoes in France. But the inspirational playmaker feels he has little left to offer his country.

Manchester United star Paul Scholes is only 29, but he feels he has done enough for England. The list is endless.

It’s great that in Zimbabwe we have players who at 34, if their ages have not been doctored, still want to play for the country. But it’s sad they are no longer good enough.

Gumbo should know that. And heshould save the peren-nially cash-strapped Zimbabwe Football Association some money by not flying back home some of these old war-horses.

Unless of course Gumbo feels the old horses still have to show us what they learnt in Tunisia, as Marimo made us to understand. But certainly not how to miss a yawning goal, or how not to mark a striker as good as Yakubu Aiyegbeni or John Utaka.

We have also players in camp who, though not really old, are struggling to make any impression at clubs in obscure leagues in Europe. We hardly, or the coaches in particular, know how the players are really performing at their clubs.

Look at Dumisani Mpofu, who has been struggling to get a team in South Africa. Young Newton Katanha also comes to mind, as well as George Mbwando and Joel Luphahla.

But wait a minute! For Luphahla it’s just a matter of bad luck, the young man is good enough for any league in the world.

The tragedy of Zimbabwean football is that our player base is small, which probably leaves Gumbo and his colleagues with little option but to continue taking the old guard to the battlefront.

No one can compare us with Nigeria, who have the pleasure to ignore tried-and-tested players such as Celestine Babayaro, Sunday Oliseh, Finidi George and a host of talented players dotted around the globe.

We all hope Gumbo won’t maintain the “tradition” that whoever flies from abroad will be guaranteed a jersey. Ask Super Eagles coach Raphael Chukwu, who said he would rather come here with a squad of only 18 players so that no one will be disappointed not to wear a jersey.

While I fear experiments are better left for other matches, I still contend that if local-based players such as Ronald Sibanda are better than Edzai Kasinauyo or Richard Choruma then they should get the nod.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Tapuwa Kapini in goals if he is the one in best shape. And even young Cephas Chimedza and Honour Gombami can deservedly warm up the bench, while some foreign-based players join us in the VIP terraces.

Come Sunday, the onus is now on whoever is chosen – young or old – to prove that I unnecessarily open my mouth.

It could be time for the likes of Tembo, Adam Ndlovu and Mpofu to bang out of what I believe to be their swansong year in style.

I don’t wish any of these players or anyone to fail to justify my argument. We will all rally behind the Warriors.

Or rather please prove that age ain’t nothing but only a number. Justify why Gumbo has to ignore some local talent at your expense. –

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