Don’t celebrate forever, Tunisia is waiting

Ndamu Sandu/Itai Dzamara

ECSTACY enveloped Zimbabwe last Sunday when news filtered through that the senior national soccer team had booked a maiden appearance at the prestigious Africa Cup of Nations.

It was a fitting end to a campaign that began on September 8 last year under a cloud of uncertainty for a nation that had endured 23 years of agony.

It did not matter that qualification came through the aid of a third party – Gabon – who dismissed their fellow West African, Sierra Leone 2-0 on Sunday.

With the Warriors having gone through two decades of recycling foreign coaches without success, a befitting salutation should be accorded the three local men – head coach Sunday Marimo and his two assistants, Rahman Gumbo and Brenna Msiska.

The trio discovered a solution to an equation that had vexed former coaches, notably the affable Reinhard Fabisch and tough-talking Clemens Westerhof.

Marimo on his part has cemented his place in history as a coach with an ability to transform a team of average players into a formidable force.

He did it with Dynamos in 1998 when he guided the popular Harare giants to the finals of the African Champions League.

But qualification should not let Zimbabwe rest on its laurels.

There are grey areas that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency for the team to make a mark in Tunisia. Otherwise it could all end on an embarrassing note at the grand stage.

Even before the deafening drums and music of joy have faded, the nation has to start serious preparations for the finals immediately. The finals are only five months away.

The Zimbabwe Football Associa-tion (Zifa) has gained a deplorable reputation of always bungling preparations for international encounters.

As such, qualification for the finals must not deceive the nation into believing that all is now well within Zifa. It goes without saying that administration of the national game would have a major bearing on the Warriors’ performance in Tunisia and the sooner Zifa puts its house in order the better for Zimbabwe’s image.

Administrative boobs nearly cost the Warriors dearly for their match against Mali, which was nearly aborted as Zifa bungled travel arrangements.

In a feat that would rank as the mother of all blunders, Zifa’s ineptitude left the Warriors stranded in Johannesburg en-route to Mali last month forcing the team to return to Harare. This could have demoralised the team but the lion-hearted Warriors put up a brave performance and came out with a precious point in Bamako, when they finally made the trip. All the national teams have been accustomed to commencing camp late with Zifa singing the same chorus of financial blues.

The corporate world understandably deserted the association in protest at the rot that had become so entrenched over the past 23 years.

It has to be stated that the likes of Vincent Pamire, Susan Chibizhe, Gibson Homela and Francis Zimunya, among others, need to be flushed out as they have failed to improve football administration.

Anthony Mandiwanza and his colleagues at the Sport and Recreation Commission should move with speed and clean out the mess at Zifa House.

The government, which has maintained a spectator’s position in the past only to emerge as a savior of the Warriors at the very last stage of the campaign, must also get involved in the national team’s welfare right from the beginning.

However, remarkable about the Warriors’ qualification is that it was not necessarily achieved on the back of the $100 million that was injected by government as winning bonus but sheer determintion to break the jinx.

The incentive should have been offered in the first match against Mali last year when the campaign kicked off.

Where were Information minister Jonathan Moyo and his money when Peter Ndlovu had to go out of his way and buy tracksuits for the Warriors ahead of the crucial Mali encounter?

Where was the incentive when the team played Seychelles in Victoria? Food for thought.

For the coaching department too, certain issues need to be attended to.

Top on their agenda should be casting the selection net as wide as possible. There is enough time for Marimo and his assistants to go down to lower divisions and pick up two or three players for the Warriors.

The team for Tunisia should invariably have a fusion of experience, youth, skill and ambition.

While celebrations and preparations continue, the success must be dedicated to the 13 fans who perished on July 9, 2000 at the National Sports Stadium.

Local soccer has indeed awoken from a deep slumber characterised by failure to qualify for major tournaments as well as chaos on and off the pitch.