What’s next for Warriors?
HARARE – As the country still tries to come to terms with the Warriors’ failure to qualify for next year’s African Cup of Nations, the question on everyone’s mind is “What next?”
The Warriors’ qualification dream went up in smoke after Angola won 2-0 in Luanda on Sunday to progress through on away goals rule.
This becomes the fourth Nations Cup finals Zimbabwe has failed to qualify for, after back-to-back appearances in 2004 and 2006.
Questions that arose after the defeat is whose heads should roll, the players, coaches or Zifa?
While this can be done, unless the fundamentals are addressed, the Warriors will always come short on the international stage.
Planning and preparations are the two basics that Zimbabwe as a football nation has always failed to implement.
The Warriors went into Sunday’s match with a seemingly healthy 3-1 lead from the first leg, but unfortunately the team wilted in the Luanda heat and the tie was decided in a blistering opening seven-minute spell by the hosts.
The Warriors allowed Angola’s star forward Manucho to head twice past goalkeeper Arial Sibanda in the fourth and seventh minutes.
The two goals wiped out the advantage Zimbabwe had carried into Sunday’s game.
The dream of qualifying for next year’s Afcon finals in South Africa was effectively shattered.
Once again, the Warriors will have to contend with watching Africa’s premier football competition from home while smaller nations as Cape Verde, Niger and Ethiopia rub shoulders with some of the world’s best football talents come January.
But did Zifa prepare and plan thoroughly so that the team could fight for a ticket to South Africa?
Even before the first knock-out stage against Burundi back in February, Zimbabwe made it a painstaking meal for themselves.
There was no blue print put in place so that the team qualifies for the tournament without any hustles.
Instead Zifa was preoccupied with the Asiagate match-fixing scandal.
Over a 100 players and coaches were suspended to pave way for the investigations and the Warriors slumped to a shocking 2-1 defeat to the Wasps in Bujumbura.
From that point it was always going to be difficult for the team to have easy passage to South Africa.
In June, the Warriors laboured to a 1-0 win over Burundi in the second leg to set up a date with Angola.
Things looked like they were going Zimbabwe’s way when the team beat the Palancas Negras 3-1 last month.
In stepped the Mzansi90 committee, a fundraising committee tasked to look for resources to ensure the trip to Luanda was smooth.
To its credit the committee ran around under a short space of time and was able to raise over $500 000.
That 3-1 scoreline gave the nation a lot of hope and few imagined the Warriors would surrender that lead as easily as they did on Sunday.
Why wasn’t the Mzansi90 idea mooted before the team even played against Burundi in the previous qualifier?
After Sunday’s capitulation, what’s left only now for the Warriors is the 2014 World Cup qualifiers where the team has already started on shaky ground in Group G.
Zimbabwe only has a single point from two games going into the double header against leaders Egypt next March.
If the country cannot qualify for the Nations Cup, setting sights on winning a ticket for Brazil is far- fetched.
Aiming for realistic targets is the best way forward for the team at the moment.
Fielding the national Under-23 team for the remaining four matches in this group is the most progressive thing Zifa can do at this moment.
This will help Zimbabwe prepare for a team that will challenge for a place at the Afcon finals to be held in Libya and the All-Africa Games in 2015.
The technical team must start to look for players currently in the Young Warriors set up, who will be exposed to the rigours of international football in those four remaining matches.
By the time the qualifiers begin for Libya 2015, Zimbabwe would have a team with the necessary experience to fight for qualification.
Experience was the Warriors undoing in Luanda on Sunday as most of the players except for Esrom Nyandoro and Tinashe Nengomasha had never been in such a position.
But if the country starts to groom young players by exposing them to the harsh conditions that will be experienced in Cairo and Conakry next year, they will learn valuable lessons that will come in handy for Libya 2015.
If Zimbabwe was a really progressive football nation, a Libya 2015 committee would be set up now to ensure that the team qualifies rather than to start running around in November 2014 when the team is only left with one match to round off the qualifiers.
What’s next for Warriors?AGONY: Zimbabwe football players feel the pain after Sunday’s defeat.