By Eddie Chikamhi
Zdravko Logaruic could have led Zimbabwe to the 2021 AFCON finals but the grim statistics, stalking his tenure, are still stirring up concerns ahead of tougher battles ahead.
The Croatian gaffer took the Warriors across the line in a campaign that started under the tutelage of Joey Antipas, late 2019.
Loga took charge of three of the five qualifying games.
He managed only four points, out of a possible 12, but it was still enough to take Zimbabwe to what is fast becoming a routine AFCON finals dance.
However, there is need to look beyond the veil of qualification to see if Loga is, indeed, adding value to the team or just happens to be a lucky man at the right job, at the right time.
With Botswana and Zambia both conceding a combined 14 goals in four matches at an average of more than three goals per game against Algeria, the statistics show this was a weak group.
And therein lies the danger of using victories over those two countries, including a Chipolopolo side which last featured at the AFCON finals in 2015, as a barometre of progress.
Loga has so far taken charge of seven competitive games in the CHAN tournament, and the AFCON qualifiers.
Apart from securing the berth to Cameroon, the statistics are not encouraging.
The Warriors have lost five games under his guidance, drawn one and won only one, a 1-0 victory over Botswana.
Under normal circumstances, this is a very poor record.
He lost all the matches in Cameroon during the CHAN finals, with the Warriors being the first team to return home.
They were beaten by the hosts Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Mali.
The results from the CHAN finals had a huge bearing on the FIFA rankings, as Zimbabwe slipped four places down the table to 112th place, in the world.
The alibi was that the local players he took there had been inactive, for a long time, because of a Covid-enforced break, in domestic football.
But the Warriors were not the only ones at the CHAN finals who were forced to deal with that. Loga’s appointment, from the very start, divided opinions as it was revealed the association could have settled for the cheapest option.
Loga started his AFCON qualifiers tenure with a 1-3 defeat, in Algeria, before his men rallied from 0-2 down to force a 2-2 home draw, against the African champions at the National Sports Stadium.
The CHAN debacle when Zimbabwe suffered three straight defeats for the first time at the tournament was unpalatable.
On Thursday, the Warriors’ hard-fought 1-0 win over Botswana, helped them secure second place with eight points.
It meant they could still afford to lose the dead rubber, against Zambia on Monday night, when Loga chose to rest most of his key men.
The biggest test for Loga will come in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, between June and October, this year.
And, if what we have seen, so far, from the coach is anything to go by, the Warriors could be in for a tough ride.
ZIFA president, Felton Kamambo, was right to suggest Ghana and South Africa were not playing to their strength right now and could be beaten in the World Cup qualifiers.
But whether the Warriors have the right man in charge of them right now, to inspire them to win over Bafana Bafana and the Black Stars is something which is dividing this country.
There is a group which is saying Loga deserves his chance and, unlike others, he has had to deal with challenges, on a number of fronts, in an era decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Then, there is the other group which has been saying he appears to be a very unstable character, who should not be trusted with the responsibility to lead the Warriors.
They have tried to analyse his tactics, in all the matches he has been in charge of the team, and they seem to run into the confusion of how his teams play.
The Warriors have not played with a particular style, they still struggle to pass the ball around, and retain possession for long periods, and their midfield continues to struggle for a spark.
Is Loga a defensive master?
The goals, which have come in every game, except that win over Botswana, suggests he isn’t.
Is he an attacking master?
So what is he?
Maybe, something in between and it’s an issue that is dividing the local football community.
The Warriors, who missed the 2018 World Cup because of suspension, are in a group where three of the teams, have qualified for the 2021 AFCON finals.
Ethiopia looked impressive in a four-goal demolition of Madagascar in Addis Ababa last week.
So many people have been talking about the next AFCON finals, forgetting the World Cup qualifiers, are just around the corner.
It’s something the Algerians had in mind when they sent in their full-strength team, against Botswana on Monday and won 5-0.
The Algerian coach knows he won’t have the chance to prepare for the World Cup qualifiers and used that match to try and ensure his best players get as much game time and chances to continue working on their combinations, as possible.
Loga, in his defence, said he couldn’t risk some of his players who were carrying yellow cards and could be barred from the opening game of the AFCON finals if they picked another caution.
But, that’s a tournament which won’t be played, until January next year, and there is no guarantee the same players will still be playing at a level, to be considered for that tournament.
It’s the World Cup qualifiers, which are on the corner, which matter and that’s why the Zambians, who have started work towards making an impression in those games, celebrated wildly when they scored their second goal, on Monday.
Algeria 3-1 Zim (Afcon Q)
Zim 2-2 Algeria (Afcon Q)
Cameroon 1-0 Zim (CHAN)
Burkina Faso 3-1 Zim (CHAN)
Zim 0-1 Mali (CHAN)
Botswana 0-1 Zim (Afcon Q)
Zim 0-2 Zambia (Afcon Q). The Herald