By Robson Sharuko
The Zimbabwe Warriors’ stock continues to rise, with the authoritative France Football Magazine, the franchise holders of the prestigious Ballon d’Or since 1956, saying they performed better than five-time African champions Cameroon, four-time AFCON winners Ghana and regional rivals Zambia last year.
Two-time African champions, the DRC, who suffered a 1-2 home defeat at the hands of the Warriors in a 2019 AFCON qualifiers before needing a diabolical refereeing call, in which Knox Mutizwa’s effort was ruled out, to scrape a draw in Harare, were also cast into the Warriors’ shadow.
Congo-Brazzaville, who now stand between the Warriors and a return to the land of the Pharaohs for a fourth dance at the AFCON finals this year, were also cast very far away from the good company which Sunday Chidzambwa’s men now enjoy.
The Warriors have been on the rise, powered by a number of fine players, including highly-rated midfielder Marvelous Nakamba, evergreen skipper Knowledge Musona, the irresistible Khama Billiat and the fusion of some battle-hardened professionals like Tendayi Darikwa of Nottingham Forest.
They lead their 2019 AFCON qualifying group, having their fate in their hands as they need just to avoid defeat against Congo-Brazzaville at home in March to qualify for the finals, including the bragging rights of being the first group of Zimbabwean footballers to make it as group winners.
ZIFA vice president Gift Banda, who announced a reshuffled pack of the Warriors’ coaching staff on Tuesday, told The Herald yesterday the quest for the team to succeed in that make-or-break game will be his leadership’s first big test and all resources will be channelled to ensuring they write a success story.
‘’We have just come in as a board and I can tell you that the game in March is what is our immediate concern, where all our efforts will be put into, because we simply have to qualify and after that everything can take care of itself,’’ he said.
‘’We want to create a memorable day where we will mix football and entertainment, where the feel-good festival will start in the morning with a number of our best musicians taking part and long into the night after the game is over and we will be, as we believe, celebrating as a nation.’’
The Warriors were picked by the CAF Technical Committee as one of the six best performing teams on the continent last year, in a landmark seal of approval of their rise, with Mauritania, who qualified for their maiden AFCON finals, winning the gong in Senegal on Tuesday night.
And, now, France Football Magazine, one of the most reputable sports publications in the world who even partnered FIFA for the Ballon d’Or for six years between 2010 and 2016 before, again, taking sole ownership of the award they have handed out since 1956, have named the Warriors as one of the African teams which did well last year.
France Football Magazine are also the franchise holders of the French Player of the Year award since 1959 which has been won by such legends like Raymond Kopa, Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana, Jean-Pierre Papin, Laurent Blanc, David Ginola, Didier Deschamps, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Frank Ribery and Antoine Griezmann.
The magazine’s experts use a complicated system in which they measure the quality of the opposition, how a lower-ranked team performed against a team ranked higher than them, the prominent players from either side and then award points according to the results from the matches.
Morocco, whose FA was named the best administered football controlling body for 2018 at the CAF awards in Senegal on Tuesday night, were named by France Football Magazine as the best performing African national team for 2018.
The Atlas Lions coach Herve Renard also won the Coach of the Year award.
Senegal, the Lions of Teranga, finished second, Nigeria in third place and Tunisia in fourth place as they all rode on their participation at the World Cup finals in Russia while the Pharaohs of Egypt, who also graced the global showcase, were ranked eighth.
Madagascar, who qualified for their maiden AFCON finals with a game to spare in the qualifiers, were named the fifth best performing African team with Cote d’Ivoire in sixth place, Mauritania in seventh, Mali in ninth and Kenya in 10th place.
Uganda were placed the 11th best performing African team last year, South Africa in 12th place, Burundi 13th place, Guinea 14th place, Rwanda 15th place and the Warriors in 16th place.
Had the Warriors avoided defeat against Liberia in Monrovia, they could have possibly have been ranked as high as sixth, but falling to a team that was then bottom of their group, after having avoided defeat in Brazzaville and Kinshasa, dented their profile a bit.
But Ghana’s Black Stars (17th place), Angola’s Negras Palancas (18th place), Algeria’s Dessert Foxes (20th place), Burkina Faso’s Stallions (21st place), Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions (22nd place), Zambia’s Copper Bullets (25th place) and the Congolese Leopards (37th place) were all ranked lower than the Warriors in terms of how they performed last year.
In Southern Africa, the Warriors were one of the top two performing sides, according to France Football, while there are 11 places between them and the next team from their group, Congo-Brazzaville, in 27th place, and 21 places between them and the third team from the group, DRC, in 37th place.
The Warriors played seven competitive games last year and drew 1-1 against Botswana, winning on penalties, in the COSAFA Cup, while also drawing 0-0 against Lesotho, en-route to another penalty shootout win, and a 4-2 extra-time victory over Zambia in the final.
They then held Congo 1-1 in Brazzaville, beat DRC 2-1 in Kinshasa, a result that sent shockwaves around the globe, drew 1-1 against the Leopards in Harare and lost 0-1 to Liberia in the AFCON qualifying matches.
France Football Magazine Top Performing
African National Teams 2018
1 Morocco, 2 Senegal, 3 Nigeria, 4 Tunisia, 5 Madagascar, 6 Cote d’Ivoire, 7 Mauritania, 8 Egypt, 9 Mali, 10 Kenya, 11 Uganda, 12 South Africa, 13 Burundi, 14 Guinea, 15 Rwanda, 16 ZIMBABWE
Selected countries —) Ghana (17th); Angola (18th); Algeria (20th); Burkina Faso (21); Cameroon (22); Zambia (25); Gabon (26); Congo-Brazzaville (27th); Mozambique (32nd); DRC (37th); Liberia (38th); Botswana (39th); Lesotho (40th0; Malawi (43rd); Swaziland (46th) The Herald