COSAFA basks in the glory of Zim and SA’s 2016 Olympic Games success
> Robson Sharuko
Harare – THE Confederation of Southern African Football Association are basking in the glow of a sensational triumph by two of their member nations, Zimbabwe and South Africa, who upset West African heavyweights to power their way to the 2016 Olympic Games showcase in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
While Banyana Banyana will be returning to the Olympic Games, after playing at the 2012 London Olympics, the Mighty Warriors of Zimbabwe will be making their maiden appearance at the globe’s greatest sporting showcase following their historic success story over Cameroon in the final qualifier.
It’s the first time, in 35 years, that a Zimbabwe team has qualified for the Olympic Games with the Mighty Warriors following in the footsteps of the country’s women’s hockey team who shocked the world by winning gold at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, Russia.
Given the challenges that the Mighty Warriors faced, in their battle for a place in Rio, including failing to travel to Cote d’Ivoire for a date against the Ivorians because the debt-ridden Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) did not have the financial resources to foot the trip, their sensational achievement is being cheered around the world as one of the game’s enduring feel-good tales.
Dubbed the Miracle of the Mighty Warriors, the adventure has seen the team being initially thrown out of the qualifiers for the 2016 Olympic Games, only to be reinstated into the competition when FIFA handed Cote d’Ivoire a 3-0 walkover win, from the first leg that the Zimbabweans failed to fulfill, and ordered the West Africans to travel to Harare for the second leg tie.
The Ivorians, who initially had been declared by the Confederation of African Football as winners of the tie, after the no-show by the Mighty Warriors in the first leg in Abidjan, then withdrew from the tournament and the Zimbabweans marched into the final qualifier against Cameroon.
Still, the financial challenges that have been stalking the Mighty Warriors persisted and only the last-minute intervention of the Government, who provided funds for them to make the trip to Cameroon for the first leg, ensured that the first leg in Yaounde was played.
A priceless away goal by Rudo Neshamba in Yaounde, in a 1-2 loss for the Mighty Warriors, proved decisive and, in the second leg at Rufaro in Harare on Sunday, the forward volleyed home a beauty in the only goal of the match to power her team to victory, on the away goals rule, and a place in the Brazilian sunshine.
Given the way that Zimbabwe national football teams have struggled to make an impression in international competitions in the past, with the men’s team, the Warriors, only qualifying for two Africa Cup of Nations finals and without an appearance at the World Cup finals since the country gained Independence 35 years ago, the Mighty Warriors’ success story is being dubbed the finest achievement in Zimbabwe football history.
“There is no doubt that this is the greatest achievement in the history of Zimbabwe football,” Eddie Chivero, the Zimbabwe National Soccer Supporters Association leader, told The Southern Times.
“When you qualify for the Olympic Games, it’s a grand achievement and for a country like ours, whose only success in football has been two appearances at the AFCON finals, having a team that qualifies for the Olympics is huge, very huge.
“If you consider what our team went through, the hurdles they had to clear, then you can understand that this is really very, very special and that is why it has been generating all the headlines in this country.”
South Africa beat Equatorial Guinea 1-0 in Bata, after a goalless draw in the first game, to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Jermaine Seoposenwe’s second half goal powered Banyana Banyana to victory and South African Football Association President, Danny Jordaan, hailed the team for their grand achievement.
“Today is a historic day for women football; not only have they qualified for the Rio Olympics but have done so in style – winning away from home in ‘hostile’ Bata environment,” Jordaan said in a statement.
“Few teams survive trips to Equatorial Guinea as Nigeria would attest but coach Vera Pauw plotted one of the greatest wins in South African football history.”
Banyana Banyana skipper, Janine van Wyk, was at a loss of words following her team’s success story.
“Oh my word, I don’t even know what to say. I don’t know how I feel, it’s an indescribable feeling that I am experiencing at the moment. I am so happy, you have no idea,” she said.
“This team has done so well, we have worked so hard and we really deserve this.
Firstly, I must give credit to all my teammates who went out there and gave their all and that is why we came out victorious.
“We knew what a tough task it was going to be and we knew what was required of us, but we managed to stay together, keep motivated together.
This was a really good win, everything went according to plan and everyone was just confident.
“The feeling of belief among the players before the game was something I have never seen before and before we went out to play I said to them this is our time, we need to go to the Olympics.
We lost out on the World Cup last year and at the All Africa Games, but there was something bigger waiting for us and that was the Olympic Games. So I am over the moon, it’s an incredible feeling and now I know we can go home and celebrate but more hard work lies ahead of us for the Olympics. We are looking forward to it.”
No wonder why COSAFA officials are hailing this grand achievement by two of their member nations.
“The COSAFA region will have not one but two sides competing in the women’s football tournament for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” the regional football grouping said on their official website.
“This after both Zimbabwe and South Africa qualified for the finals competition as Africa’s two representatives, the first time two nations from Southern Africa have reached the same Olympic tournament.
“For South Africa it is a return to the competition after they played in London in 2012, while Zimbabwe make a first-ever appearance.”