WARRIORS coach Sunday Chidzambwa set the ball rolling for our winner-take-all challenge against Congo-Brazzaville in two weeks’ time when he announced the provisional squad of the men who will represent us in that epic battle.
Not since the Warriors’ first appearance at the AFCON finals -in that match against the Pharaohs of Egypt in Tunisia 14 years ago – has a game for our national football team grabbed so much attention, across the nation, like the upcoming duel against the Red Devils of Congo.
Such is the massive interest that, even when the cheapest ticket is going for $10, it hasn’t diluted the passion among the fans to get these tickets and be there at the National Sports Stadium for that final showdown on March 24.
Accoerding to conservative estimates from the ZIFA officials who are overseeing the online pre-sale of the tickets, there could be a 60 000 full-house at the giant stadium for this ultimate battle and they even say, if we had a ground that could take in 100 000, the fans would still have filled it to the rafters.
You have to give credit to the local football fans, a rare breed of passionate supporters on the continent, whose loyalty to the cause of their Warriors is something that is very, very special, a bond that has resisted the team’s repeated failures in the first two decades of our Independence.
Fifteen years ago, Chidzambwa – the most successful football coach to come out of this country – ended our lengthy wait for a place at the AFCON finals and, in two weeks’ time, he will also be attempting to do something that no other coach has done for us, taking us to two Nations Cup finals.
And, should we win against Congo-Brazzaville, it will mark the first time, in our history, our Warriors would have qualified for the AFCON finals as the winners of their group.
We have certainly come a long way since those dark days when we repeatedly failed to feature at the Nations Cup finals, curiously, always collapsing at the final hurdle, and that we had the distinction of being the only Southern African nation at the last AFCON finals in Gabon, two years ago, shows our transformation into a competitive outfit when it comes to football.
When the draw for the 2019 AFCON qualifiers was made, many pundits suggested we had no chance to make it out of the group, with many suggesting that the DRC and Congo-Brazzaville, who recently fought out an explosive six-goal thriller in the quarter-finals of the Nations Cup, would easily win the two tickets to Egypt.
But, with just a game to go before the curtain comes down on the qualifiers, we sit top of the group, we went to Kinshasa and beat the DRC in their own backyard, and we went to Brazzaville and blew many chances to win that game which, eventually, ended in a 1-1 stalemate.
If anyone had said we would pick up four points in Kinshasa and Brazzaville before the start of these qualifiers, there is every likelihood he or she would have been ridiculed as being a dreamer whose predictions would be proved wrong with the passage of time.
But, of course, that’s exactly what we did and now we stand on the threshold of completing the “impossible” in style, in the place we call our fortress, and before the very fans who have always supported the team, in good and bad times, and have remained a defining and shining symbol of loyalty.
Football is a very important game in this country and the Warriors have a special place in the hearts of everyone who calls himself or herself a Zimbabwean.
Now, and again, especially in recent years, the Warriors have provided something special to cheer the spirits of this country and a reason for the people to smile, despite some of the challenges we have confronted as a nation.
That is why we believe everything possible should be done, on all fronts, to ensure that the Warriors do not fail in this massive assignment and we have to unite as a nation to ensure that the Congolese fall in two weeks’ time.
There is no reason for us to be complacent, simply because we are playing at home, because – as we have seen in recent weeks in some big matches across the world – the away teams appear to have devised ways to deal with the challenges of playing in foreign territory.
The pressure is on us to deliver, after all, the Congolese are bottom of the table, even though a victory in that match can send them to the AFCON finals at our expense, and how we will deal with the grand expectations of that huge crowd and, millions more following the events live on television, will define our fate.
The ZIFA board meets today and they have to ensure they leave that meeting having thoroughly dealt with all issues related to ensuring that everything is in place to ensure that the Warriors will succeed when they plunge into that massive assignment in two weeks’ time.
Failure is not an option here.