Warriors outfoxed themselves

AS the full-time whistle blew, the nation heaved a collective sigh of relief and gave the proverbial “slow clap” for the Warriors who had completed a comeback worthy of admiration.

Sports Panorama:mike madodA

Zimbabwe, trailing by two goals by the 38th minute in Monday’s Afcon qualifier versus African champions Algeria, came back from the break a side rejuvenated to take the game to their more illustrious opponents in the second-half and force a share of the spoils.

Captain Knowledge Musona was the architect of the comeback with a stunning freekick that even Argentine maestro Lionel Messi would have been proud of. And then, with the game headed towards fulltime, former Highlanders striker Prince Dube came off the bench to restore parity with his first touch of the game — fairy-tale stuff for a player aptly named Prince.

Warriors coach Zdravko “Loga” Logarusic was understandably delighted. The hosts had looked dead and buried and if the disjointed and insipid display of the first-half was anything to go by, the second-half offered very little hope.

But the Croat had other ideas. Not content with watching the game pass him by, a brave four-man substitution turned the tide — Khama Billiat, Ovidy Karuru, Kuda Mahachi and Devine Lunga were thrown into the fray — a cavalry charge that Algeria had no answers for.

The result means the Warriors are well on course for an unprecedented third appearance on the spin at the Africa Cup of Nations Finals following on from Gabon 2017 and last year’s campaign in Egypt.

The point earned against Algeria, which took the Warriors to five points in Group H, means that Zimbabwe, who take on Botswana on the road before concluding their campaign with a home encounter versus Zambia, can seal a place at the finals if they beat the Zebras and Zambia lose to Algeria. Our fate is in our hands and Logarusic, like so many Warriors fans, will be quietly confident that he can get the job done.

Not many would have given Zimbabwe a chance against Algeria, but the Warriors were hardly outclassed and far from embarrassed by a team that features the undoubted world-class talents of Manchester City attacker Riyad Mahrez.

He did dazzle on a couple of occasions — in the first match in Algiers when he waltzed through a static Warriors defence to score, and again at the National Sports Stadium when he deftly received a searching pass in full flight, turned Adam Chicksen inside out, before firing in off his weaker right foot. Two moments of magic, but that is what they were — moments.

Algeria came into the back-to-back encounters versus the Warriors wearing the crown of African champions, but their performances reflected anything but that. In both games, one was left wondering what could have been, had our attackers been as decisive as Mahrez.

Counting gilt-edged chances alone, Tino Kadewere could have had a hat-trick in Algiers and so could have Knowledge Musona in Harare. But more than the chances, there was a feeling that the Warriors were always behind the eight-ball from the onset as a result of the team selection.

When assessed in the cold light of day, Logarusic gave the impression of a surgeon fumbling around in the dark unsure whether he had scalpel or scissors.

How else can you explain the constant chopping and changing over both matches? He seemed to be assessing his players on the fly and a pertinent question to ask would be; how did he select the Warriors squad? Or the more cynical enquiry, did he select the squad? If the rumours are anything to go by, speculation is rife that there is a hidden hand that is pulling the strings when it comes to deciding who gets into camp and ultimately who pulls on the shirt.

Credit to Logarusic, he has shown that he does have an eye for talent. He has not been scared to bench underperformers, no matter their reputation, and his in-game management has been nothing short of first-class, as shown by how effective his changes have been whenever the substitution board has gone up.

Logarusic, who has gone a long way to winning over the many sceptics who weren’t enthused by his appointment, must be allowed the time and space to work in an environment free from interference or manipulation, if Zimbabwe’s golden generation is going to achieve anything meaningful — the tactical nous he has exhibited over the last week has earned him that. He deserves Zifa’s full support and the association must stop their proclivity to shoot themselves in the foot through a lack of preparation, poor organisation and the rumoured interference.

Loga must be afforded the opportunity to track and assess his squad, rather than to be dependent on the opinion of individuals who may have skin in the game.

The employment of a fulltime analyst by the association is a positive development that must be applauded and milked for all its worth.

A scientific approach is something that will avail to Logarusic information that will aid in making the right calls, when it comes to not just opponents but our own players.

Data rather than opinion should lead the way — and had it done so this past week, Zimbabwe could’ve been even closer to qualification — Algeria was there for the taking.

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