ZIMBABWE Warriors open their account of the 2022 Word Cup qualifiers today, with a mouthwatering derby against South Africa’s ‘Bafana Bafana’, confident that they will overcome two sticking hurdles planted in their path.
Yet paradoxically these hurdles could have been avoided.
For a start, the Warriors will be seriously depleted since English leagues have barred their players from travelling because of UK COVID-19 restrictions.
Zimbabwe has been forced to drop at least eight key players including another one from the US.
As if that is not enough, Zimbabwe will be denied vociferous support from from the ‘twelfth’ man (fans).
Zimbabwe is not allowed to have any fans at the National Sports Stadium (NSS) because the ground does not fully comply with the minimum international requirements expected by CAF.
These setbacks become very serious if we consider the magnitude of the tournament.
Success in the FIFA World Cup brings with it glory in the world of football.
Participation in the finals of this tournament, bestows personal and national immortality before the eyes of football fans.
An outstanding performance at the World Cup receives more lasting recognition than at any other football stage.
Lionel Messi is undoubtedly one of the best footballers in the world.
However, he is not regarded with the same reverence as his countryman, Diego Maradona, who helped Argentina win the World Cup in 1986.
Maradona’s magic saw his country knock out England and the Argentines viewed this as an appropriate response to the British invasion of Falklands Islands.
Giorgo Chiellini with Leonardo Boucci recently provided a defensive wall that saw Italy win Euro 20.
Although Franco Beresi missed a penalty in the 1994 World Cup, none of their Euro 20 Italian pair of defenders is considered anywhere near this great defender deified by Italians to this day.
Even Cristiano Ronaldo has not quite made it, since he yet made his mark at the World Cup.
The European Cup he won with his country is not considered good enough.
Here, in Zimbabwe, a raging debate that seems to go on forever, is about who our best national coach is, and has been.
Reinhard Fabisch seems to be the fans’ favourite and yet he never qualified for the AFCON finals, a feat achieved by Sunday Chidzambwa, Charles Mhlauri, Callisto Pasuwa and, lately, Zdravko Logarusic.
Fabisch has an edge in the AFCON qualifiers because he guided the Warriors when they knocked out Egypt in a World Cup group, leaving the Zimbabweans a game away from qualifying for the finals.
They were eventually knocked out by Cameroon.
By then, Fabisch had already attained the status of a demigod.
The most famous footballer is Pele, after he won three World Cups with his country Brazil.
Other players, like Roger Milla of Cameroon, Lucas Radebe of South Africa, Mahamed Aboutrika of Egypt, Jay-Jay Okocha of Ghana and EL Hadji Diouf of Senegal, are some of those who made their names at World Cup finals.
No wonder some Zimbabweans, who have been barred by their English clubs from travelling, have offered to foot their own hefty hotel bills to cover the cost of their 10-day stay in quarantine.
They know this is a chance of a lifetime.
Who knows, their country might qualify for the finals and, all of a sudden, their profiles might shoot up.
Of course this was refused.
Surely every soccer lover knows the importance of the World Cup to both player and country. Rules are made for people and not the other way round.
This is a case where the British had to relax their COVID-19 protocols and allow selected players to represent their countries.
They did it at Euro 20 finals.
The Republic of Ireland has already relaxed its COVID-19 restrictions, allowing those fully vaccinated and tested to bypass the 10-day quarantine requirement.
With the vaccination drive, conditions in different countries are rapidly changing.
A country red-listed today should not continually be treated like a leper when conditions on the ground are changing.
Thus, English clubs could have released players called up by their countries just as Aston Villa and Tottenham have done for players of selected countries.
We are expecting to see FIFA punishing clubs that have refused to release their players by making sure they don’t benefit from their forced presence.
We are sure if it were Third World countries refusing players from Europe and England from representing their countries, the world would have stood still with the deafening hue and cry.
While we can accuse the English clubs for leaving our Warriors a depleted team, we have no one but ourselves to blame for the absence of the ‘twelfth’ man.
How long are we going to take to bring the NSS up to the required international standards?
We must consider ourselves very lucky to be hosting Bafana Bafana at a local stadium which does not meet the international standards required by CAF.
Among other technical shortcomings, a glaring shortfall is the absence of bucket seats.
We have been told tenders have been invited for the bucket seats project but, to this day, there are no such seats at the NSS.
Where are the spectators expected to seat then?
We are not serious!
We are still going to host Ghana and Ethiopia in this round of the World Cup qualifiers.
However, there is no guarantee that the temporary reprieve to host these matches at the NSS will be extended.
And if there are still no bucket seats, definitely the ‘twelfth’ man won’t be allowed into the stadium.
Authorities-that-be have to be serious and make sure all requirements to bring the NSS up to speed are met NOW!
Despite these two setbacks, we still hope that Loga and his technical team will conjure up some formula to beat our bitter rivals in the Limpopo Derby.
The Warriors did it against Botswana, on their home turf, when we beat our western neighbours with a makeshift team in a decisive AFCON game.
Go Warriors GO!