By Phillip Zulu
Our defeat to Egypt during the opening match for the 2019 African Cup of Nations football finals on Friday night, can be summed up in six words — We let Egypt off the hook.
The Pharaohs must be thanking their gods for scrapping through from a defensive lapse that overtly highlighted the shortcomings of our defensive instincts, especially from the front three of Nyasha Mushekwi, Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona, with the latter wingers showing clear signs of poor tackling abilities.
Firstly, Musona is not expected to be very aggressive in defending roles and duties when he drifts back to lend support but that Trezeguet run on the touch should have been stopped thereof without any delay by hard tackling to take the ball and the player away from the edge of the end of the final third.
That was basic defending which should have illuminated our tenacity and resolute stance in defending our goal from the first whistle to avoid an early goal. As was expected, the Egyptians came knocking on every door for an early opener and our goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda rose to the occasion with some superb saves that kept us in the game.
Our game-plan was achieved in the first 15 minutes and then, I didn’t see the presence of the coach, Sunday Chidzambwa, on the touchline barking orders, man-managing this fete which we knew was achievable.
He should have bolstered that display with his communication salvos on his troops giving them leadership, confidence and positional discipline.
What we witnessed was different, a shell-shocked bench that never dared to enter into the fray of things and hawkishly give direction in terms of maintaining the shape of the GAME-PLAN, in possession we have the wide wingers pulling out widest to allow space in the middle of the pitch and start building play from the back, but that wasn’t the case.
Musona lost his positional discipline cheaply hence he was congesting an area where he was only needed strategically to increase compactness in the right flank of Tendayi Darikwa’s zone — not to be chasing wingers on the touchline without stopping those runs by tackles.
During this period, Mushekwi was anonymous, he was dead slow in every movement and that is when the coach Chidzambwa should have started going tough with him.
He was a lone striker throughout the game but never helped the situation by dropping deeper to centre line to reduce the ever widening gap between our last midfielder Ovidy Karuru and him, whenever the Egyptians went deeper in attacking.
His positional sense was shocking, poor and pathetic as he kept hoping that they would pass him “clean balls” to his feet.
A big NO. He should have harassed that Egyptian defence with impunity whenever the ball was in the final third when we were attacking but he was too soft for a big lad with an imposing huge frame.
He played as if he was asking for “forgiveness” for being on the pitch. Game management of the team lies with Mhofu and he failed to nail it down, he never said a thing to Mushekwi during the run of the first 45 minutes and that was our biggest downfall.
Mushekwi took out the sting from our attack and one wonders why the team that played against Nigeria was changed. In midfield, we were in sixes and sevens as we failed to control the tempo of our game-plan, how we absorb pressure and when we launch audacious attacks by keeping long spells of possession from the central areas of the pitch.
Marshal Munetsi should have been part of a back three that would have allowed the two wing backs to push up a bit, thereby allowing Marvelous Nakamba take full control of all decisions emanating from the link-up play from wide areas further up the pitch.
Munetsi made it very difficult for the midfield to have decent flows of exchanging quality passes that could have brought Billiat more into the game much earlier in the first half.
Overall, we had a superb defending back-line of four which stood the test of time but our midfield was not on second gear, lacking much conviction in carrying the ball forward into the final third and our main target striker (Mushekwi) was an island away from the territory of the unit.
He never ran his socks off, he never harassed the defenders, he never commanded the other compatriots in his front-line of the three to co-ordinate the pressing in the Egyptian defenders whenever they started their build-ups from the back.
Our strikers never forced the opposition defenders to make one single mistake, they never defended high up the pitch to allow our defenders to keep their positional discipline and allow the midfield support the pressing.
When pressing, the idea is not to win every ball but this allows the opponents to get hold of the ball in their territory without causing much damage. We didn’t do much off the ball work high up the pitch and this is where it’s mandatory to have a striker who can bustle and hustle, striking fear in the opposition defenders.
Mushekwi failed that test dismally and that was the turning point of our game as more pressure was exerted on the right flank where Musona lackadaisically diced with Trezeguet for Egypts winning goal.
Chidzambwa should have taken the game by the scruff, the Diego Simeone way or the Cristiano Ronaldo way when he hovered on the touchline during the European Nations Cup against France — he instinctively co-opted himself in the technical area with his manager and helped manage the game-plan of killing the game off by taking out the sting of attacks by France as Portugal players kept things simple and basic.
We needed that, we need another Warrior on the touchline barking orders, encouraging and supporting his players, showing good leadership qualities in the face of adversity.
Every player on the pitch when in doubt, they look up to their coach for a quick signal of support or encouragement, it didn’t happen and Egypt got away with our poor strategic planning way back before the tournament began.
The Zimbabwe national team is the only team without a backup of analysts, scouts etc, who help in dissemination of information as the game is in motion.
South Africa won this prestigious tournament years back when they recruited our own, the late Peter Nyama, to lead a special selected number of scouts under Clive Barker.
We go to this major tournament without any scouting reports as if it were some primary school trip to Nembudziya. This is how poor we are as a nation.
This is the full responsibility of the Technical Director who should be on high alert before, during and after every game. We are still in the dark days of medieval football administration, we lack the modern systems approach to the management of the game.
We have far too many individuals who could have helped, from Erol Akbay at Ngezi Platinum, Mark Harrison at Harare City, Peter Ndlovu at Sundowns, Max Makanza in Germany, Bradley Pritchard in UK or Isaac Mbedzi and Eddie Mukahanana in Canada.
Why deny all these knowledgeable professionals a great opportunity to assist “Mhofu” and the nation? Why are we so obsessed with these failed overtures of the past?
Callisto Pasuwa went solo in the last AFCON tournament when George Mbwando implored him to open up the floor and allow for divergent opinions and knowledge, but we all know what happened when Mbwando was mocked as an “opportunist”.
The next game against Uganda tonight is a must win and I hope Mhofu will have the guts and bravado to stand up on the touchline and lead from the front, show courage and determination in managing his game-plan from the first whistle. Fear was not an issue against Egypt, but over-respecting them.
Let’s go out there and fight for a WIN without fail, otherwise we will be out of the tournament. The Herald