By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – If Klaus Dieter Pagels needs a graphic illustration of how horrible his shambolic defensive unit performed at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday, he will find it in quite a few damning statistics.
The Warriors became the first national team, in 80 matches played in the group format of the 2014 World Cup Africa Zone qualifiers, to concede four goals in their backyard in the depressing 2-4 loss to the Pharaohs of Egypt.
Until the Warriors leaked four goals on Sunday, no African team had conceded more than three goals in their backyard in the 80 matches played, in exactly 12 months, since the race for a place in Brazil moved out of the preliminary stages on the continent.
In the 44 World Cup qualifiers played across the globe on the weekend of June 7-10, 2013, only one other team, Latvia, fared worse than the Warriors, in terms of the number of goals conceded at home, after they were hammered 0-5 in their backyard by Bosnia-Herzegovina.
This means, across the world, the Warriors were the second worst performing team, in terms of goals conceded at home in a losing cause at the weekend, and they were joined in that bracket by Iceland, who also leaked four goals in a 2-4 home loss to Slovenia.
We are the only African team to lose back-to-back home matches, in the 2014 World Cup Africa Zone qualifiers, a first for the Warriors since they began their journey to try and play at the global football showcase in Cameroon on October 12, 1980.
It was also the first time that the Warriors have lost successive World Cup qualifiers in nine years since losing 0-3 at home to Nigeria in September 2004, and then being beaten 0-1 by Angola in Luanda in October that same year.
The overall table will show that Sudan also lost their two home matches against Zambia and Ghana but the reality is that the loss to the Zambians came from a boardroom decision, after the Sudanese had won on the field, with punishment being meted for fielding an ineligible player.
Out of the 40 countries on the continent battling for a place in Brazil, the Warriors are just one of nine teams yet to win a match, after four rounds of games, and are joined in that group by Botswana, Gambia, Niger, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Angola and Sudan.
We are just one of seven countries who have lost three of their four World Cup qualifiers, which translates to 75 percent of their matches, and in that group we are joined by Central African Republic, Botswana, Cape Verde, Gambia, Sudan and Niger.
Depressingly, we are just one out of four teams, among the 40 African nations in the race, with just a point in the bag, from 12 points on offer, for a pathetic failure rate of 8,33 percent in a campaign that has turned into a nightmare.
Incredibly, even Lesotho are in a better position, in terms of points on the board, than us as the little mountain kingdom nation have two points, which represents a 100 percent better return compared to us, from their four World Cup matches.
When one considers that Lesotho has leaked 11 goals on their two trips to Ghana and Zambia, conceding seven in a 0-7 thrashing at the hands of the Black Stars in Accra and falling to a 0-4 loss to Chipolopolo at the weekend, the mere fact that such a hopeless team could find itself in a better position than us, hammers home the extent of how far we have fallen.
Pagels could become the first Warriors’ coach to lose three straight World Cup matches if his team falls in Conakry, where they face plucky Guinea on Sunday, after two defeats against Egypt in his first two official matches.
The German coach is still searching for his first win, at this level of the game, as the qualifiers have handed him his first World Cup assignments, as coach of a national football team, at the age of 63.
Pagels insists that he is building a new team, to challenge for a place at the 2015 Nations Cup finals, but the German coach will have to give a little bit of respect, to the importance of defence, if his mission is to be a success story.
Six goals, in just two games against the Pharaohs, doesn’t send the right signals about a coach who has his pulse on the importance of building his team from the back and appears to paint a picture of a carefree gaffer, intoxicated by the beauty of tiki-taka, horribly out of depth with the virtues of defence at this level of the game.
That his goalkeeper, Washington Arubi, was the standout player, in the 1-2 defeat by the Pharaohs in Egypt, puts into perspective the way the porous defensive shield was repeatedly overrun and, sadly, the lessons of Alexandria don’t seem to have been grasped by those who make the final call in who plays for the Warriors.
The situation is not helped, too, by the fact that Pagels’ backroom staff of Lloyd Mutasa and Warriors’ legend, Peter Ndlovu, has two assistant coaches who were not brought up being taught how to defend but how to drill holes in the opponents’ rearguard.
When Ndlovu was playing for the Dream Team, there was balance in the technical set-up with Sunday Chidzambwa, one of the assistant coaches and an out-and-out defender, taking care of the defensive shape of the team for Reinhard Fabisch’s backroom staff.
Eventually it was Chidzambwa, the head coach, and Ndlovu, the inspirational skipper, who found a way to take the Warriors to their first Nations Cup finals – exactly 10 years after their dance with Fabisch ended in failure, at the final hurdle, in Harare (Nations Cup) and Yaounde (World Cup).
But amid all the gloom that is engulfing the current World Cup campaign, talismanic forward Knowledge Musona continues to provide a glimmer of light and he finds himself among the top goal-scorers on the continent with his two goals.
Islam Slimani of Algeria leads the pack with five goals, five players, including Mohamed Aboutrika and Mohamed Salah of Egypt, are on four goals, and eight players are on three goals.
Musona’s two goals are the best return for a striker from Southern Africa and he shares that leading spot with Zambians — Chris Katongo, Jacob Mulenga and Collins Mbesuma — and Bafana Bafana forward Bernard Parker. The Herald