By Alvin Madzivanzira
IT may have been a painful Wednesday evening for scores of Zimbabwean supporters as the Warriors went down 4-5 on penalties in a semi-final match of the African Nations Championships (CHAN) against Libya, but the feat is worth celebrating.
Zimbabwe have more to celebrate about as the team reached the semi finals of the biannual tournament.
In Zimbabwe’s soccer history, the Warriors class of 2014 have achieved what no other class has achieved.
The Warriors qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2004 and 2006 and bowed out in the group stages.
This year the Warriors carried the hope of Southern Africa into the semis as Zimbabwe were the only team from the region after South Africa and Mozambique crashed out in the group stages.
For Zimbabwe CHAN exposed our local talent to a competitive tournament and the current squad is the foundation of our new national team of locally-based players.
Certainly, a number of players may pen some deals with foreign clubs as they displayed good football.
It means the future of Zimbabwean soccer is bright as the team staged a good show in South Africa.
Unlike in the previous two CHAN editions, Zimbabwe crashed out in the group stages.
What Zimbabweans should celebrate is the achievement made by the local talent.
The tournament is a good yardstick revealing how competitive our local league is.
After playing to two goalless draws against Morocco and Uganda in the group stages, there was little hope that the Warriors would progress to the next round.
They surprised many when Masimba Mambare gave Zimbabwe a priceless goal to secure a berth in the knock out stages.
Zimbabwe then met Mali and beat them 2-1.
A goal from Simba Sithole of How Mine gave Zimbabwe the lead before man-of-the-moment Kudakwashe Mahachi sealed Zimbabwe’s victory with a second goal.
Zimbabwe then conceded a soft goal in the dying stages of the game to hand the Eagles of Mali a consolation goal.
It was the first goal Zimbabwe conceded in open play.
CHAN has made Zimbabweans believe in themselves.
With local coaches, the flagship team has achieved more with several positives from the squad.
Under the tutelage of Sunday Chidzambwa and Charles Mhlauri, the Warriors reached the AFCON finals.
This time under Ian ‘Dibango’ Gorowa, the national team has made the nation proud.
It was a learning curve for the Warriors.
The defence was a marvel as the five defence pillars of the national team were discovered.
Milton Ncube, who plays a midfield role at Highlanders managed to command his new position in national team colours.
Eric Chipeta a right back at Hwange assumed the role of a central defender partnering seasoned defender Partson Jaure.
Hardlife Zvirekwi and George Chigova were the two other pillars in defence who played in all the matches.
The middle of the park was another positive department commanded by Chicken Inn’s Danisa Phiri.
He was the holding midfielder and won several battles.
Mambare, Peter ‘Rio’ Moyo, Tawanda Muparati, Mahachi and Ali Sadiki were the midfielders Zimbabwe relied on.
Zimbabwe’s Achilles heel was the striking department comprised of the two Simba Sitholes’, Donald Ngoma and Nelson Maziwisa.
The Warriors created numerous chances in the games they played, however, the strikers were blunt.
Zimbabwe will need to work on finishing if the team is to improve.
The Warriors technical department of Gorowa, Calisto Pasuwa and Mkhuphali Masuku should be commended for assembling a formidable side that almost conquered Africa.
With a bit of precision, the Warriors could have buried the Libyans in open play.
Moyo, Dynamos’ Sithole and Mahachi all came close to scoring.
Zimbabwe were the better team, but lost.
It took the penalties to decide as 120 minutes of play failed to separate the two teams.
Like in the second semi-final match between West Africans, Nigeria and Ghana, penalties had to decide the match as the two were inseparable after 120 minutes of play.
Ghana who beat Nigeria in a penalty shootout (4-1) will proceed to the final and meet Libya while Zimbabwe play in the third place play-off against Nigeria.
Zimbabwe are in the top four of the tournament and will need to beat Nigeria for the bronze medal.
The Warriors lost out on winning a fat pay cheque of US$750 000 from CAF, the prize money for the tournament’s winner.
The losing finalist will pocket US$450 000.
From South Africa, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations will be coming later in the course of the year and it’s up to the Zimbabwe Football Association to deliver.
The team needs to be maintained, playing international friendly matches with competitive teams while no change should be effected on the coaching department.
This surely cannot be a tall order for ZIFA.