Tatenda A. Matanga, Opinion
Zimbabwe failed to win yet another of their opening matches at the Africa Cup Of Nations tournament for the fifth time since our maiden appearance in 2004?
The latest blip coming after a very commendable performance by the boys against one of the tournament favourites Senengal with their array of stars.
But the tragedy with the Zimbabwe Warriors is more off-field than on it.
Strangely but quite expected, the gutsy Warriors’ perfomance Monday has only helped to pour fuel to the fire among fans back home with the casual claim “So whats new? Chidzambwa, Mhlauri and Pasuwa have done it before”.
The tragedy with Zimbabwe football is the extreme polarisation among fans and stakeholders with little or no unity displayed in supporting the national team.
Zimbabwean fans have allowed past national team events and results to cloud their appreciation and support of the Warriors, which otherwise should come naturally, with all things being equal.
It is a fact that Zimbabwe lost the match and three points on Monday albeit in the cruelest manner possible, tournament favourites Senegal eventually needing to convert a controversial penalty in the last minute of added time.
But it is also a fact that Zimbabwe turned on a splendid tactical and technical perfomance to match the highly-rated West Africans for much of the match, to the amazement of the watching global audience.
Would anyone have imagined Lionel Messi’s PSG teammate Idrissa Gueye being run rugged by Zvishavane-based Kelvin Madzongwe?
How about Liverpool’s Sadio Mane being subdued by SA lower division side Venda Academy player Gerald Takwara?
How does one explain the committed shift put in by Ishmael Wadi who used to keep fit by playing boozers’ football at White House Ground on the outskirts of Kuwadzana Extension last year?
How does CAF explain the diabolical decision to award the man of the match to Mane ahead of the impressive Petros Mhari or the towering rock Teenage Hadebe?
As the world salutes these gallant band of Warriors, somehow it is Zimbabweans, through past failures and agendas that have abandoned the national team while rooting for the opponent, though being masked in a tinge of grandstanding.
Zimbabwean fans have sadly allowed club football to divide their opinion and appreciation of successive Warriors teams.
For example, Dynamos fans are still pained by Kallisto Pasuwa’s sacking by ZIFA just after the 2017 edition of AFCON and they have somehow not fully embraced any representative coach and players that took the mantle after him.
Across the capital, CAPS United fans have never warmed to any Warriors coach who has Dynamos roots like Pasuwa and Sunday Chidzambwa and last supported the Warriors wholeheartedly during the reign of their former club coach Charles Mhlauri that ended in 2007.
Highlanders fans too have an axe to grind with the Warriors teams as they claim “its a Harare team with mostly Harare players, that always plays its home matches in Harare”
Therein lies the problem that successive Warriors generations have never really enjoyed the total support and appreciation of Zimbabwean fans.
Its probably a good thing that fate has otherwise seen Chidzambwa, Mhlauri and Pasuwa all having achieved the same credentials, that of failing to go past the group stages at AFCON tournaments otherwise some noise would have been a notch high.
It then gets worse for the Warriors with the coming in of cash-rich club FC Platinum at the top table of local football in recent times.
Many soccer fans have not embraced the change of guard and the effect is that players from the Zvishavane club usually get the stick at the national team.
There are people who hate the reigning local champions for their recent dominance and this hate cascades to every player who plays for that team.
These fans constantly question the inclusion of FC Platinum-linked players like Madzongwe, Mhari, Kangwa, Rahman Kutsanzira and Never Tigere into the Warriors teams
These Zimbabwean fans are applauding the Guatamalan referee who called a handball to Madzongwe who was going down with his hands moving out for safe landing on the ground, but the same fans choosing to turn a blind eye to the same referee who waved play-on on a Senegalese player whose raised arm is hit by the ball with him in a standing position!
Enter Norman Mapeza, the FC Platinum coach who has always divided opinion among fans with some branding him as the best prospect for the Zimbabwe national team while some point out his actual previous records with the national team which are generally nothing to write home about.
But admittedly, there is something about Mapeza that always gives hope to many fans that he will be the coach to finally do big things with the national team.
Those fans point out the fact that he is not tainted from having much history with any of the big clubs while some point out to his brand of football which is opposite the kick-and-rush football that is widely associated with Chidzambwa and Pasuwa.
There are fans who just dislike Mapeza and anything he does, these being the same people who spread wild theories about his private life.
These Mapeza-haters somehow dread Mapeza’s appointments to the national team as this only creates chances for him to finally break the record of being the most successful Zimbabwe Warriors coach, that is of qualifying from the group stages of the tournament.
These fans cannot fathom a situation where Mapeza will achieve something greater than any of their favourites Chidzambwa, Mhlauri and Pasuwa.
These people will conveniently rubbish gutsy and tactical perfomances like one on Monday by claiming “then what, its the result that matters” something they choose not to say when a gutsy Dynamos puts in a similar shift against some continental powerhouse during their past sojourns in African club football.
Besides division along club lines, there are also people who hate ZIFA and all its incumbent Presidents that they would rather have the Warriors exiting AFCONs at the earliest stages just for the ZIFA President to be fired.
Felton Kamambo and his Association have attracted a huge number of haters among Zimbabwean fans and most of these fans actually wanted FIFA to effect a ban on the country with the Warriors subsequently failing to make the trip to Yaounde just for Kamambo to be fired!
Then there are those fans who claim they have been pained by the national team’s perennial failures that they have no more heart to support the team.
Strangely the same fans have not abandoned their local and overseas clubs, some of which have not won anything of note in many many years!
And then there are fans who claim they have been abused by the political and economical situation in the country over the years that they declare they no longer support anything with the name Zimbabwe in it.
Funny enough if you look closely many, if not all of these fans, are always at the front of watching the Warriors whenever they play, which tells you the love of the national team is not a choice, its a birthright.
Zimbabwe is our country and supporting the Warriors should never be a choice.
Imagine an England citizen supporting the opposing team against England!
Zimbabwe cannot afford these divisions and abuse of the national team.
We all need to pull in one direction in support of the boys.
Lets get fully behind Mapeza, Musona and the boys.
If Zimbabweans dont support their national team, who will?
Go Warriors Go!
Bring On those Flames of Malawi!