By Tadious Manyepo
Football fans in the country have, not for the first time, been forced to conduct a thorough soul-searching exercise following the Warriors’ embarrassing early exit from the ongoing CHAN finals on Wednesday night in Cameroon.
Needing at least a draw to retain a mathematical chance of progressing to the quarter-finals, Zimbabwe were roundly beaten 3-1 by a disciplined Burkina Faso side in the second match of their Group A business.
The Warriors had had a false start to the rescheduled biannual campaign, losing 0-1 to hosts Cameroon in a match they could have easily taken at least a point had their tactics been up to scratch.
And when they needed an outright victory against Burkina Faso, in a showdown their opponents also wanted a victory given, just like Zimbabwe, they lost their opening game against Mali, Warriors coach Zdravko Logarusic was outfoxed by his opposite number.
That he had to sanction two of his best play makers in Wellington Taderera and Denver Mukamba and left them on the bench after the pair reportedly questioned his selection criteria somehow threw the Croat’s game-plan into disarray.
Already, Loga was hamstrung by the absence of some of his key men including Qadr Amini, Richard Hachiro, Andrew Mbeba and Thomas Chideu because of illness and injuries.
The journeyman diced with death as he employed a rather unorthodox 4-1-3-2 formation for a team which was supposed to go out for an outright attack structure.
Maybe it works but then he filled the attacking midfield positions with natural defenders including Patson Jaure, Tafadzwa Jaravani and defensive link Tatenda Tavengwa.
Though the Warriors initially matched their foes, the decision by Loga to throw in predominantly defenders in his formation would soon backfire.
Tavengwa, who Loga surprisingly kept for the entire game, spent the whole night wandering in that unfamiliar role, at best playing the negative ball.
Jaure, who came into this encounter as part of a literary wholesale shift to the team which did duty against Cameroon, scored Zimbabwe’s equaliser but that was his only meaningful contribution as he appeared lost in that attacking third.
If anything, Jaure was playing in that role probably for the first time in his professional career including in his stints in South Africa and Zambia.
Jaravani, a surprise pick in the first place in that team, showed some fine glimpses with his top-notch technique but for the past five years he has been playing at the highest level in Swaziland and at Black Rhinos, he has either been deployed as a right-back or a centre-half. Resultantly, most of his passes, even in key moments, were in reverse.
Then King Nadolo, another of the many changes in the starting line-up, didn’t quite familiarise with the unusual setting and just like his partners, he failed to show up.
Goalkeeper Simba Chinani, who came in place of Ariel Sibanda after the latter was culpable in the goal conceded by the Warriors in the opening match, was short on confidence.
Chinani was erratic and error prone and he should shoulder the blame for two of the goals scored by Burkina Faso.
The Stallions were superior and bossed the Warriors in every department.
Their quality was well above their opponents and had they been clinical in front of goal, the Warriors would have been humiliated even further.
But Loga will always argue that his team’s preparations were chaotic and asks for a little patience from the ever-demanding fans in this country.
The local players, who are the only group eligible to play in this tournament, have gone for 13 months without kicking a ball in an organised competition and their fitness levels are way beyond average.
Not only are the players physically unfit, they are struggling to orient themselves with the mental demands of the game as well.
While Loga prepares to redeem some pride with a consolation win over Mali in the Warriors’ last game on Sunday, he reckons that the team has potential but lacks fitness.
Two weeks prior to the tournament, Loga was dealt a major blow after nine of the players and five officials, including himself, tested positive for Covid-19.
That meant he missed crucial time to prepare his squad in key aspects and the Government blanket ban on all sporting activities around the same time further derailed whatever plans he had with those who had tested negative.
By the time ZIFA secured clearance from the authorities for the Warriors to resume training, a period which coincided with all but one player testing negative for the ailment, Loga had no much time to ready his squad for the fiesta.
“I have always said we have had poor preparations. Look, all the players who I have to make a competitive team from have not kicked a ball in standard competition for over a year,” said Loga.
“We are the only team in the competition whose league is not active since last year.
“The boys tried their best but their best was not enough. We have to win against Mali to get our pride back but all what happened here comes down to lack of adequate and proper preparation.”
Zimbabwe have constantly gone for competitions to make up the numbers and the latest episode underlines the need for the country to invest in proper development structures.
The gulf in quality between the country and other teams, laid bare at this tournament, goes beyond just a lack of proper preparations.
It is deep and shows the country’s lack of investment in player development.
Sports Leaders Institute of Zimbabwe president, Russel Mhiribidi, said this is the time to self-introspection and see where the country is lacking.
“This is a lesson which is valuable enough to take. We became the first team to be eliminated from CHAN with a game still to play. That tells a lot in terms of our development structures,” said Mhiribidi.
“But I want to be honest. I think the Warriors gave a gallant fight. Imagine going for 13 months without kicking a ball that means the team was not ready for competition. There is no way players would have defied sports science by performing above average yet they were not playing for at least four consecutive months.
“I am saying every stakeholder from the Sports Ministry, Sports Commission, ZIFA, PSL and everyone should play a role to ensure that we invest in proper football structures and employ latest training trends.” The Herald