By Robson Sharuko
The Warriors might have been barred from the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, but the greatest Warrior of all-time has been roped into the global show as part of a package of the television broadcast being beamed into millions of African homes, offices and bars.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is special, in terms of its African connection, because it celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first victory by a country from this continent at this global football showcase when Tunisia thrashed Mexico 3-1 in Argentina in 1978.
The special nature of that landmark victory, in Lionel Messi’s hometown of Rosario, was that it was masterminded by an African coach, Abdelmajid Chetali.
It helped bury the sins of the Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire, at the 1974 World Cup finals in Germany, where they were reduced into a punching bag by their rivals.
That Congolese side, which a few months earlier had beaten Zambia in a replayed final to be crowned African football champions, lost all their three matches at the 1974 World Cup finals.
They also failed to score a goal, slumped to an embarrassing 0-9 defeat at the hands of Yugoslavia, while conceding 14 goals in 270 minutes.
Forty years after an African coach celebrated the honour of being the first gaffer to guide a country from this continent to victory at the World Cup finals, another African mentor, Aliou Cisse, became the first coach to lead a nation from this continent to victory at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Warriors are not part of the global football festival unfolding in Russia after they were barred from the qualifiers by FIFA as punishment for ZIFA’s failure to settle a $68 000 debt owed to Brazilian coach Valinhos who had guided the national team during the 2010 AFCON qualifiers.
Zimbabwe has never featured at the World Cup finals but the Warriors are not alone in that league as 134 FIFA members, which is 63.5 percent of the global football’s 211-strong membership, have so far tried, and failed, to make it to the global football showcase.
Incredibly, 41 out of 54 African countries who are members of CAF, representing a 75.92 percent of the continent’s football membership, are yet to get their breakthrough by qualifying for the World Cup finals.
While the Warriors are watching from a distance, Peter Ndlovu, the greatest Warrior of them all, is featuring in the global showcase drama as one of the faces of one of the powerful sponsors who are bringing the action from Russia into African living rooms, offices and bars through live television transmission.
PPC, a leading supplier of cement and related products in Southern Africa, with interests in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, the DRC, Ethiopia and Rwanda, are one of the main sponsors bringing in live pictures, through the power of television, of events at the 2018 World Cup to the African audience.
The video, which comes as an advert, is a celebration of King Peter’s rise from humble surroundings in Makokoba in Bulawayo to become the first African football star to parade his skills in the English Premiership.
And it comes with a powerful message of motivation, for millions of kids on the continent, that they should never give up.
King Peter is featured as a father who takes his son on an annual journey, to where his story began before his rise to superstardom, when life was hard and all he could afford was just a plastic ball, living in a small house where the family car was an old and battered VW Beetle.
It starts with the roar of an elephant and then a message, “The Peter Ndlovu Story, the first African to play in the English Premiership” runs across the screen in salute of the greatest Warrior ever before the soundtrack is provided saying: “Every year, I take my son on a pilgrimage to where it all began,” King Peter says as he narrates his story.
“Looking back, it was tough (with the words being accompanied by a bare-footed boy playing with a plastic ball outside his family’s modest house).
“In Africa, we are built for strength, and that is why we trust PPC.”
King Peter is one of Africa’s finest footballers who never graced the World Cup finals during their careers in a list that also features former World Footballer of the Year, George Weah, who is now the President of Liberia.
Kalusha Bwalya, regarded by some as the greatest Southern African footballer of all-time, also never featured at the World Cup finals as his Zambian side, just like the Warriors, came close, yet very far, from the global showcase.
The Flying Elephant was part of the Dream Team that came within just winning their final qualifier against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon to get a ticket to play at the 1994 World Cup but the West Africans triumphed 3-1 in their backyard in Yaounde.
King Peter inspired his Warriors to end two decades of waiting for a place at the Nations Cup finals when the national team, under the guidance of Sunday Chidzambwa, finally made it in 2003 with the forward providing the inspiration as the captain.
He also made history as the first Zimbabwean to score at the AFCON finals when he found the target in a 1-2 defeat in the Warriors first game at the continental football festival in Tunisia in 2004.