By Robson Sharuko
In the end, the doomed mission turned out exactly the way many had feared – a farce disguised as an adventure to represent this country at a major football tournament.
A pilgrimage of shame, in which our sorry and ill-equipped troops, disguised as Warriors, would be thrown into the deep end to fight battles they never prepared for.
Which, they never appeared capable of winning.
It was an outrageous gamble, built more on hope than science, on dreams than possibilities and on fantasy than reality.
And, predictably, it all backfired as football reminded us, for the umpteenth time, there is a huge price to pay for taking it for granted.
The beautiful game once again has humbled us, because of our romantic fascination with incompetence, our eternal belief in madness and our endless love affair with chaos.
It has humiliated us, for our reluctance to never learn from our grave mistakes and for our stubbornness to stick to a flawed formula.
And, incredibly, for our belief in the outrageous possibility of dead bats having an effect on our performance.
The first team to kick the ball in Cameroon at these delayed CHAN finals and, predictably, the first team to be eliminated after just six days of action.
One goal scored, by someone who has made a career specialising in trying to stop the opponents from breaching his defence, and none from those flown to provide the threat upfront.
Four goals conceded, at an average of two every game, which is the same of our average in the AFCON qualifiers, since Zdravko Logarusic took over as coach.
The only difference is that it’s a miracle, given the fine chances which the opponents got, and fluffed, we have conceded only four in Cameroon.
Loga and his men have appeared desperate to provide their opponents with belated Christmas presents, in the form of goals, during this sorry Cameroonian adventure.
Against the Burkinabe on Wednesday, at times, it was hard to watch if you are of a Zimbabwean persuasion, as it became increasingly difficult for the mind to convince the soul that these were true Warriors.
The people of Cameroon have a good idea of real Warriors because, in more ways than one, we have been a very good part of their football story since Roger Milla and his crew illuminated Italia ‘90.
Reinhard Fabisch and his Dream Team gave them all sorts of problems.
Agent Sawu, Vitalis Takawira, with a superb hattrick, Adam Ndlovu and Paul Gundani had a way of scoring against them.
There was even a four-goal humiliation for the Indomitable Lions at the National Sports Stadium.
And, of course, there was that winner-take-all showdown in Yaounde in ‘93 when the hosts won 3-1 and, with it, grabbed a ticket to the ‘94 World Cup finals.
Now, watching these Warriors go about their business, making a mockery of their hour upon the big stage, must have even surprised our hosts. They must also be wondering, right now, what has really happened to these brave hunters who used to give them so much trouble with their resilience?
The same scoreline, which ended our ‘94 World Cup dreams, is the same score line which ended Loga’s adventure at this CHAN finals.
The only difference, though, is that this time it came at the hands of the Burkinabe Stallions, on Wednesday night.
But, where the Dream Team didn’t surrender, with match officials even conspiring to destroy their campaign, Loga and his men will be relieved they only conceded three goals.
It’s a measure of how bad we were that 1-3 defeat, as painful as it is, was not a true reflection of the way our opponents kept pounding at us.
The West Africans – themselves without the pedigree of having a strong domestic league – must have been surprised by our weaknesses.
And, inspired more by our shortcomings than their strengths, they took full advantage, repeatedly poking holes through our faulty lines. Steve Kwashi, the legendary coach who guided CAPS United to their first league win after Independence in 1996, always had a phrase of caution for those who take football for granted.
“When you fail to prepare, then you have to prepare to fail,” he would say again, and again, during his time in the domestic game’s trenches.
Did we prepare for this tournament well, especially for a country without competitive domestic football for over a year?
Of course, we didn’t, with the final nail in our coffin being hammered last month when the proposed Premiership tournament collapsed amid a boardroom fallout between ZIFA and the Sports Commission.
That tourney would have given our players, at least some time in a competitive environment and, as any serious coach, and player, will tell you, there is no substitute for that.
Then, there were those shocking choices in the selection process.
And, here, it’s not those in Cameroon who really highlight the weaknesses of Loga, and his coaching staff, when it comes to settling for the best possible players to represent us.
Instead, it’s those who stayed behind, and no one highlights that madness more than Tawanda Nyamandwe.
Had Covid-19 not ruled him out, the gangly veteran, who turns 38 this year, would possibly have led the line of our attack at this tournament. Of course, some will rightly argue, age doesn’t matter.
And, the irony of it all is that the tournament is being played in a country where a 38-year-old Milla found a way to illuminate a World Cup.
But, Nyamandwe is not Milla.
And, while he has made the most of a career in which he compensated for his lack of talent, with hard work and strength, it’s ridiculous to imagine he could be leading the Warriors attack at any stage of his adventure.
Let alone at this late stage when he has eased into semi-retirement.
For goodness sake, this is the same player who some local coaches felt was no longer good enough to provide the cutting edge in attack.
And, they found a way to convert him into a central defender.
It’s a position he played at ZPC Kariba before the club parted ways with him hoping the injection of youthful blood would help them find a way back to a path that almost took them to the league title a few years ago.
Now, somehow, Loga and his coaching staff were convinced he could be trusted to lead the attack of the Warriors, at a CHAN finals, and be their main source of goals.
What are the statistics, in a game that has gone scientific, to suggest someone like Nyamandwe, for all his physical attributes, could be gambled upon to lead the national team attack?
How many goals did he score in the last campaign on the domestic front?
And, when they needed a replacement, they settled for Thomas Chideu.
A man who is struggling to revive a career that has slipped off the rails since his public rejection in South Africa.
Something just doesn’t sound right.
There were voices who campaigned that this CHAN finals, where our chances of glory were compromised by the inactivity of the domestic game, would have suited our Under-20 team.
They argued it was better to use it to invest in our game’s future, send the teenagers there for the exposure, and don’t worry about the results.
It’s called long-term investment where we can endure the pain today so that we reap the rewards tomorrow.
But, no one listened.
And, what Loga, who is facing some coaches who don’t even take care of their main national teams, will learn from this adventure, no one knows. What he intended to learn, from taking a player turning 38 this year, who is in the final stages of his career, no one also knows.
But, then, that’s us, doing exactly the same wrong thing and expecting a different result.
Loga is the first foreign coach to guide the Warriors at a major football tournament and, sadly, his adventure will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Seven years ago, Jaure was part of the Warriors side that finished fourth, at the same tournament, under Ian Gorowa.
Maybe, that explains why he was able to deliver our only goal, at this tourney, to date.
But, it’s also an indictment of our system that, seven years down the line, it’s struggling to produce the next generation of players to feature at such largely developmental tournaments.
Something just isn’t right.
At least it’s not all gloom for Loga, after all, he can get a chance to meet his Cameroonian agent, Robert Moutsing, and discuss a whole lot of issues. Including, but not limited to, reports that Tanzanian side Simba SC are pursuing the possibility of bringing him back to Dar es Salaam.
In these times when Covid-19 has made international travel quite a hassle, it might not be a doomed mission for Loga, after all.
Even if we come back without a point, and a goal, from those forwards who should have played with Nyamandwe in our attack.The Herald