Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
THE Zimbabwe Warriors finished 21st, out of 24 teams, and suffered the worst single defeat at the 2019 AFCON finals, after a four-goal battering at the hands of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a tournament that represented a giant step backwards for the team.
Only Burundi and Tanzania, who left this tournament goalless and pointless, and Namibia who looked very lightweight in such great company, fared worse than the Warriors on the final table.
The Warriors, who also only picked a point in finishing bottom at the 2017 Nations Cup finals in Gabon, scored just a single goal in three games – for the first time since they started playing at this level of the game – with Khama Billiat’s strike against Uganda the only time they breached the opposition defence.
In sharp contrast, they scored two goals, in the first half of the opening game against Algeria in Gabon two years ago, with Kuda Mahachi and Nyasha Mushekwi scoring for them, while they also added a further two goals in a losing cause in the final game against Tunisia.
To put their impotency, in this tournament, into context, Peter Ndlovu, who led the Warriors at their first AFCON finals in Tunisia 15 years ago, scored more goals (two) in one match against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, who were then the defending champions.
Maybe, we should have read the signs a long time ago but, blinded by passion in our moments of triumph when these Warriors easily won their qualifying group with a two-point cushion over the DRC, we didn’t pick out the frailty of a team whose eight, of its nine goals, had been scored by just two men.
Knowledge Musona had weighed in with five goals while Billiat scored three with the other goal coming from fullback Ronald Pfumbidzai.
The key questions that should have been asked back then were:
- What if Musona, whose confidence has been battered by a nightmarish season in Belgium, where he experienced a difficult initiation at Club Brugge and the club where he was loaned to Lokeren ended up being relegated, lost his form at the AFCON finals?
- Who would step in to score goals for the Warriors, in the event that happened, given that the other forwards – who were not Billiat – had so far failed to make any impression in the qualifiers against teams which were slightly inferior, in quality, to what they would come up against here?
- What if the opposition, given that the technical analysis of the opposition goes a notch higher when it comes to the AFCON finals with a lot of time and effort invested in studying the opposition’s biggest threats and how to stop them, found a way to stop Musona, who would step into his big shoes?
- Why was there such an over reliance, on the supply of goals, on Musona, who became the first Warriors skipper to score an AFCON hattrick, en-route to getting five in the qualifying campaign, and Billiat, who scored three, when there were other forwards in the team?
And, as fate would cruelly rule, Musona had probably his most disappointing adventure, on Warriors duty, missing a golden chance to win the match for his team by crashing his effort against the crossbar, with a yawning goal in front of him, and as he misfired, so did the whole team.
The Warriors’ goal return of just a single strike at this AFCON finals was as bad as debutantes Mauritania, who also scored once, and Namibia.
The Brave Warriors of Namibia also conceded four goals in one match but, at least, unlike their namesake from Zimbabwe, they found a way to score a goal in a 1-4 defeat.
The Warriors’ defence also had a horror show and the six goals they conceded here came at an average of two goals per game, which is not good enough at such a tournament, and – for a team whose rearguard had impressed during the qualifiers – this was a mighty slump.
Some will blame the loss of key central defender Alec Mudimu to injury, in the countdown to the final match against the DRC, but such an argument isn’t good enough for a national team that should have enough back-up resources and that Marshal Munetsi has played centreback, at his old club Orlando Pirates, should not have sent alarm bells ringing.
What possibly escaped many was how the Warriors became very vulnerable, and very weak defensively, once Danny Phiri took over the defensive role position, his ability to somehow stay away from the battles where his presence was needed, meaning he was barely visible and his weaknesses not thrown into the spotlight as those who were hungry to be in the thick of things.
Zimbabwe, Guinea Bissau and Angola suffered the ignominy of being the only winners of their qualifying groups who failed to qualify for the Round of 16 at this tournament.
The other group winners during the qualifiers – Guinea, Tunisia, Senegal, Morocco, Mali, Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Morocco and Senegal – all easily qualified for the knockout stages of this tournament.
The Warriors were the only one of three teams, the others being debutantes Mauritania and Angola, among those who finished the qualifying tournament with, at least, 11 points, who did not make it to the knockout stages of this tourney.
The others, Morocco (11), Cameroon (11), Mali (14), Algeria (11) Nigeria (13), Tunisia (15), Egypt (13), Uganda (13), South Africa (12), Guinea (12), Cote d’Ivoire (11), all easily sailed into the knockout stages.
Of the five COSAFA teams which arrived at this AFCON finals, only Madagascar, who topped their group after a shock win over the Super Eagles of Nigeria, and Bafana Bafana, who had to endure the long wait for Mali to ensure Angola didn’t pick a point in their final showdown, remained to fight another day.
The Brave Warriors of Namibia went back home pointless, and with just a goal to their credit, their namesake, the Warriors picked only a point, and a goal, and both teams suffered the humiliation of four-goal defeats in their group matches.
P W D L F A Pts
19 – Mauritania 3 0 2 1 1 4 2
20 – Guinea Bissau 3 0 1 2 0 4 1
21 – Zimbabwe 3 0 1 2 1 6 1
22 – Burundi 3 0 0 3 0 4 0
23 – Namibia 3 0 0 3 1 6 0
24 – Tanzania 3 0 0 3 2 8 0