A funny old game indeed

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Enock Muchinjo

AS the popular sports cliché goes, you are only as good as your last performance.It is in this light that one will totally understand the fierce backlash received by the Warriors after an insipid draw with Botswana in last week’s opening 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.

Fans have every right to be angry with their team’s disappointing performance and, although they are not always right, there is also another old adage that says the supporters are never wrong.

Let us assume the last is correct.Suppose we were all justified to react the way most of us did following the disheartening display against Botswana last Friday, describing a home draw with a country of such low football pedigree as some kind of national embarrassment — another all-time low for Zimbabwe — imagine the glumness in Zambia right now following two opening qualification defeats, on the back of non-appearance at the previous two Nations Cup tournaments.

Looking a little further up the continent may also get us a clearer perspective in regard to what African football has become these days — unusual results and perhaps something adding greater context around Zimbabwe’s match with Botswana.

Twenty-four hours before the Warriors were frustrated by Botswana, elsewhere in their group the current African champions, Algeria, had delivered a merciless performance to thump Zambia 5-0 in Algiers.

Not that Zambia is a yardstick for comparison at the moment. They are going through a pretty rough patch in their history. But, frankly speaking, they should not be losing in that manner. The Zambians were champions of the continent only seven years ago and the country’s President Edgar Lungu, aptly captured the mood of this proud football nation when he labelled Chipolopolo’s capitulation in Algeria unacceptable.

On the same day as Zambia’s heavy loss, some results worth noting had also been recorded across the continent.Kenya — full of potential, but in all honesty, not a force in African football — fought hard to hold the continent’s most successful team, Egypt, after enduring a taxing 16-hour journey to the North African country’s coastal city of Alexandria.

South Africa, a country that can literally buy success, travelled to Ghana — a country trying to emerge out of a deep crisis following a damning exposé of widespread corruption in the administration of the game there — so huge a mess that domestic football competitions in the West African nation had to be suspended.

Bafana Bafana, the better prepared of the two sides on paper, were beaten 2-0.With such background before us, I found it a little strange that the Warriors — unpredictable a team as they come — had been written off by many as no-hopers ahead of the Zambia clash, simply on the basis of a slow start to the campaign.

This is the same team, for heaven’s sake, that in the previous campaign arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo and conjured up something special to defeat the host in Kinshasa. In the same campaign, Zimbabwe had also rescued a precious point in Congo-Brazzaville, a match they also could have won.

And then against the pool’s weakest team, Liberia, the Warriors were suddenly so out of depth — so horrible they lost when needing just a point to secure qualification with a game to spare.

So going into the Zambia tie on Tuesday evening, you could say only history was against Zimbabwe — never having beaten our neighbours on their home turf in a competitive qualifying match.

But nothing lasts forever.And with this Zimbabwe team, we have learnt to expect anything, bad or good.I was not the least bit surprised by the win in Lusaka.
Observing what has been happening around us, these unexpected trends probably do not define the Warriors alone. It boils down to football, especially in Africa nowadays, becoming increasingly fickle.

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