Sport’s high and lowlights

AS we welcome 2014, Zimbabweans will look back at 2013 as yet another difficult sporting year in which tough lessons were learnt, but a modicum of success achieved whose fond memories will for long linger.

Kevin Mapasure

IndependentSport, which keenly followed local sports, goes through the key events, moments and performances of the past year. First we look at how football — the nation’s most popular but underachieving sport — fared.

One step backwards
Warriors star player Knowledge Musona endured a hard spell in Germany, failing to nail down a place at Hoffenheim and later at Augsburg where he was on loan.

But there was still belief Musona could still prosper in Europe and after his time at Augsburg elapsed, several clubs in Germany, England and the Netherlands sought his signature.

English championship side Queens Park Rangers, managed by Harry Redknapp, registered interest in Musona in a letter published in the media. Redknapp has previously mentored former Warriors captain Benjani Mwaruwari during his spell at Portsmouth. Surprisingly, Musona opted for Kaizer Chiefs, the launch pad of his career.

With all due respect to Chiefs and the South African premier league, Musona made the wrong call and another shot at Europe’s elite leagues looks unlikely.

Joke of the Year
Kudos to the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) for providing some lighter moments in an otherwise dull year after they nominated the Warriors in the Team of the Year category.
Is the paucity of national teams that serious? If so then this is no laughing matter.

For the record, the Warriors failed to record a single win in the Brazil 2014 World Cup campaign, finishing bottom of the group in a pool that also included Mozambique.

Some of their results this year include 2-1 and 4-2 defeats to Egypt as well as a 2-1 defeat to Guinea in Conakry.

This begs questions about the calibre of the SRC selection panel.

Penniless performers
Despite cricket providing some rare joyful moments with one of the national team’s best Test performances when they beat Pakistan at Harare Sports Club, preceded by another Test win against Bangladesh, the sport reeled from financial difficulties for most of the year.

Lack of sponsorship remains the bane of popular sport in the country. The home series against Sri Lanka was shelved owing to lack of funds to host the Asians. This year, players were more often than not chasing their dues rather than runs.
It is sad that the once affluent sport of cricket has now joined football in the doldrums.

Finally passed the Test
A Test win was delivered on a beautiful afternoon on September 14, 2013 at Harare Sports Club, after a 12-year wait.
Zimbabwe beat Pakistan in the second Test, having narrowly lost the first to square the two-match series and share the honours.

For a long time Test wins for Zimbabwe only came against Bangladesh.

The triumph over Pakistan came at a time when the national side had been written off.

Seamers Tendai Chatara and Brian Vitori each took five wicket hauls while Hamilton Masakadza, Brendan Taylor and Tino Mawoyo scored half centuries in a 24-run victory.

It’s not a World Cup, but it’s no mean achievement to win a Test match against one of the game’s super powers.

Nice Price
Zimbabwe left arm spinner Raymond Price called time on his career having represented the country in 22 Tests, 102 One-Day Internationals and 16 T-20s.
He might have wanted to continue but after being snubbed by selectors ahead of Bangladesh there was no option but to quit.

Debate of the Year
Few sports debates polarised opinion as much as former Warriors mentor Klaus Dieter Pagels’ tiki-taka football philosophy and team selection.

Warriors fans always demand instant success and probably that impatience is the team’s biggest undoing, as the team often fails to qualify for major tournaments.

The debate centred on the style of play and also the selection of players to suit Pagels’ demands.

This was not helped by sports journalists who give the impression they know more than the coaches and place so much trust in players playing abroad.

Pagels failed to convince fans he could do without the talents of midfielder Willard Katsande, among others. A few shared his vision and were optimistic of success under his system, especially after the team’s impressive performance in the 2-1 defeat to Egypt in March.

They believed in his ideas of building around locally-based players such as Harare City’s Silas Songani. However, others saw no future in Pagels, particularly as he shut the door on some Warriors regulars.

Doubts lingered over whether the Warriors had the right personnel to go the Barcelona way. And when positive results were not forthcoming in a promising performance in his first competitive game against Egypt, there was only one route for Pagels, through the exit door.

Pagels made a big contribution to the Warriors’ funk as they failed to muster a single win, collecting just two points in their group for Brazil 2014, after losing home and away to both Egypt and Guinea.

Charmed by Chan
Qualification for Chan is not necessarily what most football fans dreamed of. However, it is a platform for the team as they aspire to compete at Afcon.

Against the odds, the locally-based Warriors beat Zambia in their Levi Mwanawasa hunting ground, something that no other nation had managed to achieve since the magnificent facility was constructed. The Warriors also dispatched Mauritius in an otherwise disappointing 2013.

Again, kudos Great Kali
Congratulations yet again to Kalisto Pasuwa for another Castle Lager Premier League championship title. It was such an intriguing season which went right to the wire, with the calculator coming in handy after three teams, including Highlanders and Harare City, finished on the same number of points.

Pasuwa’s Dynamos emerged victorious thanks to a superior goal difference. Former Champions Motor Action and Monomotapa bad farewell to the topflight after relegation, together with Black Mambas and Triple B.

‘Rebels’, ‘Mercenaries’ and ZRU
It was important for the Sables to keep their dream of England 2015 alive by maintaining a place in the Africa Cup Group 1A.

For most of the year that seemed easily achievable and the main focus was on retaining the Africa Cup. Yet, for a few weeks preceding this year’s tournament played in Madagascar in July, the dream looked headed for disaster.

A selection furore erupted once players who had served for the last four years and propelled the team from the lower rungs of Africa Group 1 C division to becoming African champions in 2011 and 2012, suspected a plot to push them out in favour of returning, high-profile foreign-based players.

Most of the players playing in foreign leagues had previously shunned the Sables shirt. With Zimbabwe’s good chance of progressing to the World Cup, particularly ahead of the 2013 Africa Cup, there was a sudden influx of players.

The serving Sables rebelled against the technical team’s coziness with the returning players they labelled mercenaries and the unfortunate consequence was Zimbabwe failing to retain the Africa Cup which was won by Kenya.

Off the hook
Highlanders finally landed a major piece of silverware under the guidance of Zambian mentor Kelvin Kaindu when they defeated How Mine to clinch the Mbada Diamonds Cup.

How Mine beat Harare giants Dynamos and Caps United in their own backyards on their way to the final, staged in front of an exuberant capacity crowd at Barbourfields stadium.

Bosso ran out 3-0 winners in the final, triggering wild celebrations and setting in motion preparations for 2014 with renewed optimism after Kaindu signed an extension to his contract.

The good
Tawanda Muparati joined a list of illustrious footballers when he was named Castle Lager Premier Soccer League Soccer Star of the Year.
Silas Songani came second while Chicken Inn’s Kuda Mahachi was named the third best player in the local topflight in 2013.

The ugly
Dynamos and Warriors midfielder Devon Chafa was found guilty of substance abuse by Fifa, and was handed a six-month ban to derail what promised to be a good year for him. Our football and other sports’ authorities need to crack down on substance abuse and the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Bits and pieces
The junior volleyball teams qualified for the age-group World Cup and while that was a good achievement the sport has not yet attracted a significant following locally.

The team, however, lost all matches at the tournament.
The women’s basketball team returned from continental championships without a single win. And where are the national hockey teams, we wonder.

But they are sure to pop up when the Olympic Games qualifiers begin.

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