By Robson Sharuko
The Digital Demolition, three for Vitalis Takawira, four for the Warriors, one for the Indomitable Lions — remains a classic football storybook tale where fantasy evolved into reality.
A once-in-a-generation outcome, what a nation’s dreams are made of, it was a result of such epic proportions that it sent shock waves around the entire football world.
No wonder that ‘96 AFCON qualifier, a quarter-of-a-century ago, still appeals to local football fans and the passage of time, and the changing of the seasons, have failed to erase it from the memory.
This week, it has been trending again, being celebrated as probably the finest performance by the Warriors, by some of those who watched it, and many of those who read about it.
In these days of a global lockdown, which has wiped out live sport from the calendar, a journey back into the past has become the flavour of the season for many around the world.
And, the Warriors fans — with a lot of them now having to deal with spending their days confined to their homes — have not been left out of these nostalgic adventures.
When The Herald asked them, this week, to name the one match they believe represents purity, when it comes to the performance of their Warriors, the ‘96 AFCON qualifier against the Indomitable Lions featured prominently on that illustrious list.
The 4-1 thrashing of Bafana Bafana at the National Sports Stadium, with Peter Ndlovu scoring twice, the goalless draw against the Pharaohs in Lyon, France, in a World Cup qualifier and, even the 3-5 loss to the Indomitable Lions at the 2004 AFCON finals, were rated as great performances.
But, it appears, the 4-1 thrashing of Cameroon on January 22, 1995, in a Nations Cup qualifier, represented greatness to many of the Warriors fans.
Maybe, because it was some form of payback to the Cameroonians, given it was the first meeting between the two countries since the controversy related to their stormy ‘94 World Cup qualifying decider in Yaounde.
The Indomitable Lions won that match 3-1, to book their place at the ’94 World Cup finals, but there was a lot of gamesmanship, and some questionable match officiating in favour of the hosts, which left the visitors seething with anger and crying foul.
German coach, Reinhard Fabisch, the creator of the Dream Team, ended up being banned by CAF for a year, for throwing some United States dollar notes towards the match officials, in an accusatory gesture suggesting they had been bribed to ensure the hosts’ victory.
That ban effectively marked the beginning of the end of the Dream Team.
So, when the Indomitable Lions arrived in Harare 20 years ago, there was a lot of anger within the domestic football family, still reeling from that missed chance to see their Warriors at the World Cup finals.
Three years earlier, the Warriors had beaten the West Africans 1-0, in a World Cup qualifier at the same stadium, with striker Agent Sawu heading home a last-gasp winner, and then bursting into tears, overwhelmed by what he had just done for his country.
It’s a game that also featured prominently, among the matches which the fans felt represented the high point of the Warriors’ adventures over the past 40 years, with many voting for it because of the sheer drama it produced.
Given this was an Indomitable Lions side that had illuminated the globe at the ’90 World Cup finals in Italy, reaching the quarter-finals where they lost to England after extra-time, the Warriors’ victory that July 4 afternoon, in 1992, represented a sign the Dream Team had come of age.
The quality of that Indomitable Lions side, which still included remnants of that ’90 World Cup success story like striker Francois Omam-Biyik, scorer of the goal that helped them beat Diego Maradona and his World Champions in the opening game of Italia ’90, still convinces many Warriors fans that this victory remains the one worth its weight in gold.
‘‘Sentimentally/emotionally, it is the 1-0 home win over Cameroon at the National Sports Stadium,’’ said former Warriors fitness trainer, Gerald Maguranyanga.
‘‘Cameroon came with such a scary, crowd-pulling reputations, there was no way we were supposed to beat them, on paper. Twice we did that at home. Heady days those.
‘‘The Dream Team captured the imagination of the nation and even drove whites in numbers to watch them, an indication that if you’re a soccer squad and can divert attention of folks ordinarily into rugby, cricket etc, then you have turned the corner as a true entertainment entity.’’
Legendary goalkeeper, Joseph Antoine-Bell, captain Stephen Tawtaw, Jean-Claude Pagal, Alphonse Tchami and Denis Nde were some of the team’s standout players.
But, after the chaos of Yaounde in that final qualifier, the ’96 AFCON qualifier against the Indomitable Lions had an edge to it and, for the Warriors to win that game 4-1, with Vitalis Takawira scoring a hattrick, provided the perfect response the fans were baying for.
The late Paul Gundani, with a beauty, scored the other goal while Hans Agbo provided the consolation for the Indomitable Lions.
Bruce Grobbelaar, Norman Mapeza, John Phiri, Francis Shonhayi, Benjamin Nkonjera, Claudius Zviripayi, Adam Ndlovu, Peter Ndlovu and Wilfred Mugeyi were part of the Warriors starting XI while Memory Mucherahowa came in for Nkonjera in the second half.
But, Maguranyanga believes the best performance by the Warriors came elsewhere, at the 2004 AFCON finals, when they beat Algeria 2-1.
‘‘The greatest game ever played by the Warriors, FACTUALLY was the 2003 AFCON (finals) one (2-1 vs Algeria). That is the Warriors’ best ever,’’ he said.
‘‘I saw a side of Joel Luphahla that stuns me to this day. Our best-ever crowd, at the National Sports Stadium was twice against Cameroon.
‘‘Luphahla was so unlucky not to move onto Ligue 1 in France. Two clubs made keen enquiries about him. His pace, ball control and decision-making on the day was astonishing.
‘‘Of all our players, Lupahla was most convinced we would beat Algeria. He verbalised it, he walked his talk.’’ The Herald