HARARE – Watching the African Nations Cup with colleagues in the newsroom on Tuesday as Togo matched the much-fancied Ivory Coast pound-for-pound, I felt a wave of nostalgia for the good old days when the Togolese, then minnows in African football, were easy pickings for Zimbabwe at the National Sports Stadium or at home in Lome.
Though a last-gasp winner by Arsenal forward Gervinho ensured a winning start for the Ivorians, I felt, with a little bit more discipline and big match temperament, Togo would have caused the first major upset of the tournament.
It’s not just Togo who have moved away from mediocrity, among the several African teams we used to look down upon with so much contempt in the past.
I remember vividly watching on television, exactly 13 years, a wizardry Peter Ndlovu running rings in the Burkina Faso defence in a World Cup qualifier in Bobo Dioulasso, won 2-1 by the Warriors.
So unplayable was Peter, who scored a brilliant double to cap a top-drawer performance, the Canal France International (CFI) commentators, in their heavily accented-French English, re-christened the mercurial Warriors skipper “The Poison”.
A decade down the line and with such players as current captain and the scorer of their only goal against the Warriors, Moumouni Dagano, still around, not only are Burkina Faso capable of holding their own against the Super Eagles of Nigeria in their opening Afcon match, but are now a regular feature at the Nations Cup finals.
Add to that list Mali, another team we used to easily brush aside and are now being spoken of as genuine contenders for the Nations Cup, and you ask yourself, so what the hell happened to us?
The answer is probably quite simple, but the main reason we have remained stagnant while other nations picked themselves up and went into ascendancy is that they acknowledged their imperfections and worked on it over the years while we chose to live under the false impression that we had arrived as a footballing force.
That is why you see most of these continental teams these days playing an exciting brand of attacking football, which is very pleasing on the eye, while our approach is still kick-and-run as it was 13 years ago, lacking any methodical build-up whatsoever.
One colleague went further and declared that even the famed Dream Team was not as good as it was made out to be, and that it took a whole new generation of Zimbabwean footballers to finally qualify for the African Nations Cup is ample evidence to support the notion.
We need to take a leaf out of these former minnows.