Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
MARVELOUS NAKAMBA arrived here pursued by a raft of suitors, including English Premiership football side Aston Villa, and amid great expectations he would play one of the most influential roles for the Warriors in their quest to qualify for the knock-out stages of the AFCON finals for the first time.
But, after just 90 minutes in which he starred in a losing cause against the Pharaohs last Friday, his tournament was over.
Injury ruled him out of the second match against Uganda, where his influence and leadership was badly missed as the Warriors missed a grand opportunity to post a victory that, in the final analysis of events, could possibly have been enough to take them beyond the group stages.
Despite intensive work, including lengthy sessions in the swimming pool, Nakamba could not make it for the final decisive match against the Democratic Republic of Congo as the Warriors collapsed to their worst AFCON finals defeat with a 0-4 humiliation.
The injury is unlikely to dampen interest in Nakamba from the suitors although his Belgian club, Club Brugge, will be disappointed he didn’t get a lot of time to impress those chasing his signature as they had gambled on a good show by the midfielder to boost his transfer fee.
Aston Villa, who face competition from a number of other clubs, including Sheffield United, are looking at paying £20 million for Nakamba.
The midfielder’s injury and limited appearances here have once again raised questions whether there is something wrong with the way the Warriors prepare for such major tournaments and if, as some now fear, the rigorous exercises they undertake just after coming from lengthy club seasons are decimating the team.
While it’s normal for a national team to be hit by injuries, questions are being asked when this becomes a regular occurrence and, as has been the case with the Warriors, it becomes a common feature of their camp.
Two years ago, on their return to the AFCON finals for the first time in 11 years, Knowledge Musona lasted just 12 minutes of the opening match against Algeria which ended 2-2, with Kuda Mahachi and Nyasha Mushekwi on target for the Warriors in Franceville, Gabon.
Musona, who has been the team’s leading light in attack in the past decade until his form deserted him at this tournament, where he endured a horror show, including producing the miss of the tourney so far in the match against Uganda, was then forced out of the second game against Senegal.
He returned for the third game against Tunisia, where the Warriors leaked four goals in the first half, and scored a beauty in a 2-4 defeat, but 102 minutes of action, when others had played 270 minutes, meant the Warriors didn’t have their best forward for about a third of that Gabonese campaign.
And, this year, it even got worse.
There were questions about Musona’s fitness going into this tournament, and although he acknowledged he wasn’t 100 percent fit, he was still in fine shape to lead the team.
“I can say, from the last time that I played an official match, the training I have had and some matches I have played, I think, I am okay for the tournament,’’ he told The Herald ahead of the opening match against the Pharaohs.
“It has been a while and I have not had a very good season at club level, but I know what I am capable of and I know even though I am not as 100 percent as I would like to be, the team that we have always fight for each other and I believe that I am going to play.’’
Where Musona played just 102 minutes of the 270 minutes of action in Gabon two years ago, Nakamba featured in just 90 minutes of the 270 minutes of action at this AFCON finals, robbing the Warriors of their best midfielder and, according to some, their most influential link.
Last year, former Warriors fitness coach Gerald Maguranyanga gave an interesting, if not controversial view to the subject.
“We may talk of talent and technique, but there is a very important component that we should also look into for one to be a complete player, it’s called physical conditioning,’’ he told this newspaper.
“Football, at that level, there is a concept called pre-habilitation, a form of strength training that prepares one to stand the rigours of the high intensity training. So, it’s not only about the talent or the technique.
“I have worked with the national team several times and I can tell you the fitness of our players is shocking, it was surprising some players couldn’t do 20 press-ups.’’
But, others believe it’s those rigorous training sessions which the players come across when they report for the Warriors, especially after lengthy club seasons, which would have taken their bodies for a battering, which are to blame for the chaos of injuries that has become a part of their camp.
Mushekwi played for 81 minutes in the first match and was withdrawn with a hamstring strain that kept him out of the second match against Uganda and goalkeeper Edmore Sibanda played for 80 minutes in the first game and missed the tie against the Cranes.
First-choice goalkeeper George Chigova pulled out of the match against the DRC after getting injured during warm-up and was replaced by Elvis Chipezeze, who went on to produce a stinker of a show between the posts, central midfielder Alec Mudimu missed that final match because of injury.
Devine Lunga, who had a dream performance against Egypt where he was praised for doing well against Africa’s best player, Mohamed Salah, could not feature in the final match against the Congolese because of injury, while Tafadzwa Kutinyu was ruled out of the tournament after suffering an injury in a warm-up match against Tanzania.
About half the team that started in that first game against the Pharaohs didn’t make the starting XI against the DRC because of injuries and, when Chipezeze went down in the first half, there was even the grim possibility the Warriors would have sent in a crocked Sibanda or a player from the outfield.
“These injuries are not just a coincidence, it comes from the way you prepare, remember even Khama didn’t even train ahead of the game against Egypt because of injury concerns,’’ a fitness expert, who didn’t want to be named, said yesterday.
babwe had the most injury issues at this tournament and that should tell you something.’’