IN the end, the greatest disappointment of Zimbabwe not living up to the high expectations at the Africa Cup of Nations will, for me, come down to two things.
Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo
The hype was huge before Zimbabwe’s fourth appearance at the Nations Cup finals. That it had to be this Warriors squad to crush the dreams of the nation this way, a side we had labelled a golden generation, and that one of the fall guys of the campaign has been a revered player we had accustomed to being a saviour — makes it all the more hard to take.
The deception was of massive proportions.
Too often, we Zimbabwean sports writers, get ridiculed for having too much faith and undeserved confidence in our national football team.
But let us be honest. Let us count those that did not get excited when Zimbabwe played unbelievably so well in qualifying, good enough to outclass twice the same Democratic Republic of Congo team that we were suddenly so poor against at the tournament in Egypt, so horrendously bad they handed us our worst ever Afcon defeat.
I would also like to hear from those that did not get excited when the 2019 Afcon draw came out and we were pooled with, never mind the mighty Egyptians, but the same Congolese outfit we had dominated to qualify and a Ugandan team that, well, does not exactly inspire many punters to put their money on.
I was one of those that truly believed that the Warriors had come of age, that the 2019 Nations Cup had come at an opportune time when we had quite a few decent footballers at the peak of their careers.
In support of these Warriors, in defence of their integrity and standing, I even had a go here at Uganda’s coach Sebastein Desabre, who had dared suggest that Zimbabwe were the weakest team in their group.
The Frenchman has been proven right. The gusty performance against Egypt aside, the Warriors were never quite the real deal during their shortened stay in Cairo.
The nimble-footed Khama Billiat stood out from the pack, but the bulk of the Zimbabwe squad was either below par or showed only patches of brilliance.
Third-choice goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze was shockingly awful in the 4-0 demolition by DRC. Hard to fathom, among those to send the Warriors on an early flight back home is Knowledge Musona, of all people, hitherto the team’s talisman and dependable goal-scorer.
Zimbabwean football fans have poured out their displeasure and in men like Chipezeze and Musona, perfect scapegoats have presented themselves for vilification.
Musona’s poor showing in Egypt is a particularly great mystery to those that have followed his 10-year international career with the Zimbabwe team.
As we examine the wreckage of Egypt 2019, Zimbabwean football’s most enduring image is of Musona — all alone with the goal at his mercy — hitting the crossbar from six-yards in an agonising moment that many would like to forget in a hurry.
Musona’s first tough, which is normally sublime, deserted him at a most critical stage in Zimbabwean football and indeed the player’s own career. His first-time attempt at goal took a cruel trajectory, crashing against the inside edge of the woodwork and back into play, to a soundtrack of stunned moans by millions watching on TV back home.
It was a bad miss by Musona, so bad to damage a good reputation well-known for the better part of a decade, a reputation well-earned through some of the most amazing goals ever scored by a Zimbabwean in living memory.
Worse, with the players firing blanks on the field, off it, on the technical bench, there was not exit strategy — a clueless coaching staff lurching from poor team selection to poor tactics.
Had the Warriors done sufficiently well in this Nations Cup edition, then the focus, going forward, would be to keep the core of the team intact with g
reater hope for the future.
In the wake of the debacle of Egypt, fear is rife that the team might disintegrate under the sheer weight of the great disappointment.
Zimbabwe’s supposed golden generation — which we thought to be one of our most balanced squad ever — might have met with its end without achieving anything significant. In fact, with heads hung in shame.