41 years of ‘sometimes’ continental football…just five Afcon finals appearances since 1980

WHEN Zimbabwe attained its independence in 1980, the expectation among the black population in the country was economic parity among the citizenry, land reform and more importantly, social development.

And part of the expected social development was the development, growth and triumph of sport. After all, the new-born baby called Zimbabwe had just witnessed the arrival of its first-ever Olympic gold medal as an independent and sovereign Zimbabwe when hockey’s Golden Girls did the nation proud.

Yet 41 years down the line, we have only qualified for just FIVE Africa Cup of Nations Finals, the first only coming in 2004 when we qualified for the Tunisia Finals, albeit by a technicality as we have so often done over the years. In that time, local football has had several near misses on both the continental and world stages.

For 41 years we have dared to dream but been mostly forced to endure night after night of nightmares after falling just short of qualification or progress. Ironically, with all the near misses, we have had what we believed to be the best ever collections of national team players: Golden Age after Golden Age of talented footballers who just never seemed to have enough to get past the finish line.

We even had what we called the Dream Team and boy did we dream! Did we ever! In the early 1990s, one Reinhard Fabisch and his band of Warriors that included names such as Ephraim “Rocky” Chawanda, Henry “Bully” McKop, Mercedes “Rambo” Sibanda, Willard “Mashinkila” Khumalo, Madinda, Adam and Peter Ndlovu, John Phiri, Bruce Grobbelaar, Rahman “Rush” Gumbo, Vitalis “Digital” Takawira among others, gave us memories that still linger on some 20 years after the fact. This is still considered the “goldest” of the Golden eras of Zimbabwean football.

It was preceded by Warriors’ squads that were headlined by stars like Gibson Homela, Shacky Tauro, Joel Shambo, the Chidzambwa brothers Sunday and Misheck (then going by Marimo), to name but a few, but yet they too came unstuck when it mattered the most.

And today as the country heads towards its 41st birthday, the often-asked question comes to mind: WHY DO WE KEEP FAILING?

“We seem to have struck the right chord. We are now on the right track. Three Afcon qualifications in a row mean a lot. We might have struggled but we are slowly but surely getting there,” reckoned Highlanders head coach Mandla “Lulu” Mpofu.

Warriors midfielder Kudakwashe Mahachi said gone are the days of “the so-near-yet-so-far stories”.

“I’m proud to be part of this history-making generation. Gone are the days of the near misses. We have done three times in a row and the biggest challenge will be to do well in the World Cup qualifiers,” said Mahachi.

Over the years, popular answers to this question include: Zifa inefficiency, biased match officiating when playing away games especially in West and North Africa, poor preparations ahead of key encounters and many more that almost always just sound like excuse after excuse.

Zifa president Felton Kamambo has promised thorough preparations for the Warriors’ Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals.

Zimbabwe secured their ticket to the finals set for Cameroon next January after beating Botswana three weeks ago.

The team’s last appearance at the continental showpiece was marred by player protests over participating fees and allowances, leading to their group stage exit.

Kamambo, who made history by overseeing the Warriors qualification to the Afcon finals twice in just under three years of his four-year term as Zifa president, is promising a smooth trip to Yaoundé next year.

Kamambo said they would use the congested World Cup fixtures as preparations for Afcon finals.

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