By Robson Sharuko
It was a brutal reality check for Norman Mapeza, as his risky and tricky decision to accept the poisoned chalice and return to the Warriors camp got off to the worst possible start with a miserable defeat in Ghana.
For all the feel-good factor among the fans who were delighted by his comeback story, there was always an underlying feeling Mapeza was tempting fate with his latest romance with the senior national team.
After all, his recruitment wasn’t based on the fact he was the favourite of his employers, but someone they picked out of desperation.
And, on Saturday night in Ghana, the sum of all his fears came crashing on his doorstep, as the Warriors suffered their worst World Cup qualifying beating in eight years.
Not since Mohamed Salah lit the National Sports Stadium with a superb hat-trick in a comprehensive 4-2 win for the Pharaohs had the Warriors conceded more than two goals, in a World Cup qualifier.
And, at the Cape Coast Stadium in Ghana, on Saturday, they let in three as their pathetic campaign to try and reach Qatar took another wrong diversion, this time veering towards Quebec, in Canada.
Mapeza’s decision to accept this call to try and clean up Zdravko Logarusic’s mess was either a brave or rather a crazy move, which was always likely to backfire on him.
For many, this was too much of a gamble, for himself, and those who believe in him.
The way ZIFA had turned to Benjani Mwaruwari, to try and deceive the fans by bringing in someone the supporters love, only to dump him after about a week, should have highlighted the risk Mapeza was taking, by accepting this offer.
Remarkably, this was only the fifth Warriors game, in their 2022 World Cup qualifiers but Mapeza was the third coach, who took charge of the team, in this campaign.
Joey Antipas started the journey, with two matches against Somalia, before he was fired, strangely, it now seems, for becoming the first Warriors coach to beat Zambia, in their backyard, in a Nations Cup qualifier.
Zdravko Logarusic came on board and took charge of the two qualifiers, against Bafana Bafana and Ethiopia and, after a shock 0-1 defeat in East Africa, as part of a disastrous run in which he won just once, in 14 games, he was also swept away by the tide.
On Saturday, Mapeza became the latest coach, to try his luck with the Warriors, in these World Cup qualifiers.
And, while the faces of those on the bench have been changing, one thing has remained the same — the Warriors just can’t find a way to win, in these qualifiers.
Of course, they have won once, but that came against one of the worst teams, in world football, when Somalia fell to a 1-3 defeat, at the National Sports Stadium.
Even that victory was not a straight forward affair, Knox Mutizwa needed a late free-kick, to drag his team from the edges of humiliation, before Khama Billiat scored a wonder goal, for the winner.
The challenges, which have been stalking these Warriors, of late, were quite evident on Saturday, the absence of a genuine playmaker, who can carry the ball and find the space to feed the forwards, there for everyone to see.
No wonder why many of their fans have been arguing on social media they can’t understand how Denver Mukamba, for all his flaws, can’t make a midfield where Thabani Kamusoko, for example, keeps not only playing, but gets 90 minutes. While, there was life, and promise, in some of their build-ups, compared to how they have played, in recent matches, the Warriors just couldn’t sustain such moments long enough, to hurt the Ghanaians.
This wasn’t a vintage Black Stars team, for all their big name players in their line-up, notably Thomas Partey of Arsenal.
For the better part of this contest, they were nervy and clearly they were there for the taking.
But, the Warriors, for one reason or another, somehow, appeared not to have the conviction they could go even beat them, in their backyard. It’s a shame Jordan Zemura, the jewel in the Warriors crown, who showed his teammates there was no need to fear these Ghanaians, with a fine performance, which made a mockery of his young age, ended up on the losing side.
His industry, down the left side of our attack, provided us with a weapon, which kept on opening the Ghanaian defence with one of his storming runs, resulting in the penalty, which Knowledge Musona converted.
Then, Zemura curled a beauty, with his right foot, only for him to see it kiss the upright, with the ‘keeper well beaten, and bouncing back into play.
Zemura is a reminder of the gems, which are emerging on the scene, all over the world, who could be playing for the Warriors, which we are seemingly reluctant to embrace, into our fold.
Instead, we seem obsessed with even bringing in players from the museum, those who have been there before, and failed to provide any spark, even when they were at the peak of their athletic powers.
Today, as they begin to ponder about their retirement, they have seemingly turned into gold again. And, somehow, we believe they will give us the cutting edge, even when their age tells us, they haven’t only become slow, but they are now past their peak.
The South Africans were bold, when they finally realised some of the big names in their country were no longer adding any value, to Bafana Bafana.
They brought in the new players, without the big profiles but with the hunger to make a name for themselves.
And, while their target was the 2026 World Cup, they now sit top of our group, with their fate in their hands.
Instead, we keep on believing in players, including a huge cast of perennial substitutes, who have never made a difference, on the occasions they have been thrown into the fray.
Maybe, with the benefit of hindsight, Mapeza will look at his first XI and realise it was a dangerous thing to make wholesale changes to the defence.
Especially, given that it had only conceded one goal, from a penalty, in their matches against South Africa and Ethiopia.
Since we ended up conceding three goals, we will find it difficult to justify why someone like Brendan Galloway, spent the whole game on the bench, because those, who went in ahead of him, still came short.
This was always going to be a tricky assignment for Mapeza but, on reflection, he will realise it’s a game we shouldn’t have lost.
Because, in all fairness, we came up against a Ghana side which struggled all evening. The Herald