Sun shines on Zim football
Harare – At the 2014 African Nations Championships, Zimbabwe football heralded its return to the limelight, and in the first weekend of the CAF Champions League, the country’s profile was boosted a notch higher as its soccer stars illuminated the continent’s flagship inter-club tournament.
While Zimbabwe football appears to be on its way up, there must be many souls in Lusaka concerned with the direction their national game has taken and, a year after their defence of the Nations Cup ended in a first round humiliation in South Africa, the negatives far outweigh the few positives.
Chipolopolo failed, in their major mission, to qualify for the 2014 World Cup finals and they suffered the embarrassment of being beaten to the ticket by the Black Stars of Ghana despite having been given three bonus points, for a qualifier they lost in Sudan, after the East Africans were punished for using a suspended player.
They were also surprise absentees at the 2014 CHAN finals after their best domestic football players were beaten, in the winner-take-all final qualifier, by their Zimbabwean counterparts with the Warriors coming to Ndola to inflict a knockout blow with a 1-0 win.
The only high point for the Zambians, in a miserable year, was their success in the COSAFA Cup, on home soil, when they beat holders Zimbabwe in the final but with coach Herve Renard gone, having paid the price for the team’s failed World Cup mission, the future of their national team remains very much in question.
And, just to emphasise how the mighty have fallen, Zambian champions Nkana FC suffered the humiliation of being beaten 0-2 by Swazi lightweights Mbabane Swallows in their CAF Champions League preliminary round, first leg tie in Mbabane.
The victory by Swallows was a rare success story for little Swaziland, in the African Champions League, where the country’s representatives usually get a hiding and, not surprisingly, it is being toasted around the mountain kingdom and has received royal endorsement.
Swazi Royal Prince Majaha, who watched the game, hailed Swallows for their sensational victory over their fancied opponents.
“I feel that it was a good game and Swallows represented the country very well,” Mahaja was quoted by Cafonline.
“We wish them all the best going to the second leg and urge them to hoist the country’s flag high by advancing to the next round. Actually, I would not like to see them crashing out of the tournament until they meet South African giants – Kaizer Chiefs.”
Swaziland national coach Harries Bulunga watched Swallows’ sensational victory and feels they were full value for their victory.
“Nkana hardly threatened Swallows but were outplayed and l thought Swallows could have scored a few more goals going by the chances they created,” said Bulunga.
While the Zambians are struggling, their bitter rivals Zimbabwe are flying, having re-discovered their romance with a game that has tormented them so much, in the past four years, with the Asiagate match-fixing scandal casting a dark cloud on the sport.
The Warriors might have endured their worst World Cup campaign, in the quest to qualify for Brazil, but analysts blame the game’s leadership, with at least three coaches taking charge of the team, and matters coming to a head, in their final qualifier, when only a batch of players managed to arrive in Conakry for the tie against Guinea.
Since then, though, a ray of light has shone through the dark cloud that hung over the game with the home-based Warriors qualifying for the CHAN finals, keeping their record of qualifying for every final of this tournament, and that they knocked out Zambia, winning in Ndola in the decisive match, was a massive leap of faith.
With Ian Gorowa in charge of the team, the Warriors were impressive at the CHAN finals and conceded only two goals, in six matches, to settle for fourth place, knocking out West African giants Burkina Faso and Mali along the way.
And, in the first weekend of the Champions League, the rising profile of Zimbabwe football was further boosted by the performance of their players with five Zimbabwean strikers – Kingston Nkhatha, Edward Sadomba, Washington Pakamisa, Masimba Mambare and Kudzanai Matanda – scoring goals for their victorious teams across the continent.
Eight goals were scored by the Zimbabwean forwards, in the first weekend of the Champions League, for various teams on the continent with Matanda scoring one of the goals in Mbabane Swallows shock 2-0 win over Nkana FC at Somhlolo Stadium.
Swazi international Felix Badenhorst scored the other goal for the lightweights. Nkhatha struck a brace to lead Kaizer Chiefs to a 3-0 win over Black Africa of Namibia as the Zimbabwean forward continued to impress, after enduring a difficult spell in which he became the target of his team’s boo-boys, in the first half of the season.
Zimbabwe international striker, Sadomba, also scored twice as his Libyan team, Ahly Benghazi, thrashed Foulla Edificer of Chad 4-0 on neutral fields in Tunisiaon Friday night while Washington Pakamisa also struck twice to lead Zimbabwe champions Dynamos to a 3-0 win over Mochudi Centre Chiefs of Botswana in Harare.
Masimba Mambare, one of the players who starred at the CHAN finals, announced his arrival at Dynamos by scoring the team’s third goal in their comfortable win over Mochudi Centre Chiefs.