By Mike Madoda
The COSAFA Cup has always been the one tournament Zimbabwe has dominated.
The Warriors record at the Southern African tourney is a proud one — six titles – more than any of our regional rivals, Zambia and Bafana Bafana included.
The 2018 triumph, the Warriors most recent success, was a particularly sweet one as it marked coach Sunday Chidzambwa’s fourth win in the competition, a record for a coach, defeating Zambia 4-2 in the decider.
It was also a successful title defence after the Warriors had also beat Chipolopolo 3-1 in the 2017 final.
The preceding decade was even more glorious for Zimbabwe.
Success in 2000 was followed by another triumph in 2003 when the Warriors easily beat Malawi in the decider — a triumph that set the tonic for even greater continental success that saw Zimbabwe qualifying for back-to-back Africa Nations Cup finals in Tunisia (2004) and Egypt (2006).
In between those two AFCON appearances, there was another title to savour in 2005, before Zimbabwe capped off a dominant decade by successfully hosting the 2009 tournament, beating Zambia 3-1 in the final.
With the tournament back this year after a Covid-enforced hiatus, the Warriors headed to Port Elizabeth with a proud record of 15 matches unbeaten in regulation time — last tasting defeat against Namibia back in 2015.
The only other time the Warriors had lost a COSAFA Cup match during this period spanning six years was a penalty shootout defeat to Zambia in a 2019 semi-final clash.
The current edition however has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
Zimbabwe opened their campaign with a barren draw against Mozambique, followed by another draw against Malawi in a predominantly erratic display.
Just when one thought it could not get any worse, the Warriors hit a new low under Zdravko Logarusic when their six-year unbeaten record at COSAFA Cup went up in smoke at the hands of Namibia, before an ignominious capitulation to a youthful Senegal side saw the tournament’s most successful team finish their campaign winless.
Getting knocked out at the group stage, while disappointing, is not the main issue — no team has a divine right to win.
But it is the manner in which the Warriors went about their business that is a true cause for concern.
The performances were dour, lifeless, insipid and distinctly lacking in imagination — both on the part of the players and the technical department.
It looked like Logarusic had no plan and with a record for the Croat that now reads just one win in twelve outings, this is arguably the lowest the Warriors have been in recent memory.
It is exactly the same place the Italian national team found themselves in 2018 after failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. It was shocking for the Azzurri — four-time World Champions — to not qualify for the one tournament that has cemented their legacy as one of the aristocrats of world football.
It was under the veil of this shame that Roberto Mancini stepped into the breach and proceeded to reboot Italian football with stunning results — the culmination of which was the Euro 2020 final at Wembley, of which Italy were worthy winners.
The Azzurri offered a glimpse of their ability with a three-nil mauling of Turkey on the opening night of the tournament and then got progressively better and even more convincing with each passing game. And despite the worst possible start, falling behind in the opening two minutes, the Italians capped off a splendid tournament with an impressive performance in the final — that triumph over England every bit tactical as it was technical.
So emphatic has been the revival, that it has become a popular subject of discussion amongst fans and fundi alike. “The difference is the coach,” one prominent Italian coach told Sky Sports.
“We won because of Mancini.”
Well, his record speaks for itself — he has won more titles in the major leagues than the other 23 coaches that were at Euro 2020 put together and lessons learned abroad were implemented.
Key was a positional flexibility rarely seen in international football.
Take for example Italy’s 4-3-3 starting formation which when in possession changed to 3-4-2-1 because there was a rotation of players which saw the left-back join the line of midfield and the left-sided attacker tucked inside with Immobile providing the depth.
This was a team with a clear tactical plan and the players drilled to implement it like Roman soldiers on the battlefield. Even with 26 players at his disposal, Mancini had his warriors marching to one beat whenever they were in the starting XI.
Whether he played Chiesa or Berardi, nothing changed.
Immobile or Belotti, nothing changed. Chiellini or Acerbi, nothing changed.
Locatelli started the tournament and played well but when Verratti came in, the juggernaut chugged on.
There has also been progress off the pitch. Coverciano, Italy’s equivalent of England’s St George’s Park, but one that has been around since 1958, has had to modernise and many also credit the country’s coaching hub.
The institution of the so-called C-A-R-P methodology provides clarity for Italian coaches. C is for Construzione.
“Building from the goalkeeper”.
A is for Ampiezza.
“Width, the principle of using the full-backs high.”
R is for Rifinitura.
“The space that we use between the defensive line of the opponent and the line of midfield.”
P is for Profondita.
“The depth that the striker provides during the match, stretching play.”
These principles remain regardless of the personnel.
While it is clear to see that the Italian Football Federation has a clear technical blueprint and Mancini had an effective tactical plan, it begs the question; does Logarusic have any of the above?
His record and the Warriors performances suggest not.
The Warriors have been playing without any style, direction or philosophy and Logarusic’s constant excuses and justifications for poor performances are beginning to ring hollow. With World Cup qualification and AFCON looming, his next steps seem obvious; shape up, make a plan or log out.
- Follow Mike Madoda on Twitter: @mikemadoda.