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Afcon: Time to arrest Warriors’ alarming slide

It’s been long since soccer-crazy Zimbabwe’s beloved national soccer team, the Warriors, featured at the continent’s biggest football stage, the Afcon finals.

Candid Comment with Kevin Mapasure

In fact it is now almost a decade since the team — woefully struggling to live up to its moniker — qualified; the Warriors had never qualified prior to the 2004 and 2006 editions at which it featured.

Afcon 2015, which gets underway tomorrow in Equatorial Guinea, will obviously miss three-time winners Nigeria but not Zimbabwe, who failed to leave a lasting impression on the only two occasions they played at the tournament much to the chagrin of their adoring fans.

What is rubbing salt into the wounds of non-qualification is the incessant talk of how neighbours and rivals South Africa could roll back the years by going all the way to win the cup.

This is the same South Africa that local fans believe Zimbabwe is superior to, if not in terms of results, then talent. What cannot however be disputed is that South Africa, one-time winners as Afcon hosts in 1996, runners-up in 1998 and third in 2000, are resurgent under current coach Ephraim Mashaba.

Many Zimbabweans believe their own Knowledge Musona is better than any of the Bafana players right now. The striker should make his competitive debut for unfashionable KV Oostende in Belgium at the weekend, but local fans insist he deserves far better. And in South Africa, Zimbabwe’s exports dominate: Willard Katsande (Kaizer Chiefs) immediately comes to mind as the best defensive midfielder in the Premiership; Kingstone Nkatha keeps proving himself by banging in the goals for Amakhosi.

South Africans probably wish Khama Billiat (Mamelodi Sundowns) was one of theirs and envy Tendai Ndoro (Mpumalanga Aces)’s goal scoring prowess.

Yet with such player resources, Zimbabwe now ranked a lowly 30 on the continent and 107 globally, contrived to fail in Afcon preliminaries, so fans are yet again condemned to watching other nations play at the final.

Under Mashaba, Bafana have played some of the best football in the qualifiers and should do well at Afcon. South Africa’s success serves as evidence that there is something extremely wrong with Zimbabwean football.

There is nothing spectacular about, say, Zambia’s team sheet — a couple of players in Europe who do not even command regular places at their teams, a handful in South Africa and other modest leagues in addition to those that ply their trade back home. But they are serial Afcon qualifiers and won the tournament once in 2012.

But for Zimbabwe, the sad story continues. Due to pseudo regional solidarity, most local fans will back either Zambian or South Africa ostensibly “fighting for a Sadc cause”.

Baloney! Truth is they are only doing it for themselves and not the region.

Continuous excuses will not get us anywhere; countries whose facilities and economies are worse than Zimbabwe’s continue to qualify. This should spur players, the coaches, business, Zifa and fans to come together to arrest the Warriors” alarming slide and make Afcon 2017 qualification a priority.

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