Like Tiger’s Masterclass, the Warriors have risen from the depths of despair

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
AS the world watched on Sunday, Tiger Woods incredibly defied logic, the scars left by multiple surgeries, the trauma inflicted by infidelity, the damage caused the collapse of his marriage and the shame of a perfect poster boy image lost to the ravages of life.

After a barren 3 954 days in which his life and his golf, both spiralled out of control, amid growing fears he could never walk again, Woods somehow found a way to win a Major golf title again.

Somehow, choosing a place, which until 1990, had barred blacks and women from its membership.

Until Lee Elder took part in the Masters in 1975, black golfers were not allowed at the tournament and Woods, in 1997, became the first golfer of colour to win the coveted title.

Woods’ world rankings had slumped to 1199th, as he battled the demons which engulfed his career and his life, but on Sunday he finally ended 11 years of waiting as he added a 15th Major title to his collection.

“It’s got to be right up there, with all the things I’ve battled through,’’ he said when asked how he ranked his latest triumph.

“Prior to this comeback, the only thing my kids knew was that golf caused me a lot of pain. So this is very special.’’

Football was also watching as Woods completed Mission Impossible and Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock said the tale could inspire them in their bid to beat the threat of relegation from the English Premiership.

“We just have to look at the golf and at what Tiger has done — amazing,” said Warnock.

“Nobody gave him a chance either, he has been written off that many times and we have.’’

The Warriors are unlikely to be mentioned when the sporting world, for the next few weeks, debates Woods’ miraculous return from the brink to a spot back in the arena of champions.

But, this generation of Warriors, led by Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat, have been quietly writing their little tale of revival for a national football team, which only a few years ago, was also lying on the canvas, weighed down by a number of challenges, including the humiliation of being expelled from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

And, just like Woods who needed 11 years to win another Major golf tournament, this generation of Warriors also ended their country’s 11-year wait for another dance at the AFCON finals when they booked their place in Gabon two years ago.

The Warriors had last featured at the Nations Cup finals in Egypt in 2006.

Successive failed bids to qualify for the 2008 and 2010 AFCON finals, in which these Warriors lost to Malawi and Namibia, had drained life out of the team, sucked interest from most of their fans and such was the level of depression that a 2013 Nations Cup qualifier against Angola at Rufaro attracted only 4 000 fans.

Those failures also brought the curtain down on the international careers of a number of Warriors, while ushering in this Double-K generation, led by Khama and Knowledge, which emerged into the fold as Africa finally celebrated the arrival of the World Cup on its doorsteps.

By the time the Warriors were knocked out of the 2015 AFCON finals, in a preliminary round qualifier by Tanzania, it was clear the team had slumped to the depths of despair.

Zambia’s stunning Nations Cup triumph in 2012 provided a mirror for these Warriors to reflect how far they had lost their way in international football.

And, when FIFA wielded the axe in 2015 by announcing the team had been expelled from the World Cup qualifiers because of ZIFA’s failure to pay former coach Valinhos, it appeared this was the end of the road for the team.

But Warriors, just like Tigers, seemingly never give up.

Today, the Warriors have found their killer touch once again and, for the second successive campaign, they will be at the AFCON finals having qualified as winners of their group.

They will even open the next Nations Cup finals with an explosive showdown against the Pharaohs of Egypt and, where they used to watch from a distance during those dark days, they are now not only part of the show, but standing toe-to-toe against the record winners.

“I don’t think there will be many teams fancying a group meeting with these Warriors,’’ said veteran South African commentator Mark Gleeson as he covered the team’s 2-0 win over Congo.

The statistics also tell a story.

From the 2012 to the 2015 AFCON qualifiers, when this generation emerged, the Warriors played six away AFCON qualifiers, didn’t win a game, drew one and lost five matches.

After the 2015 AFCON qualifiers, when this generation had become the soul of the team, the Warriors have played six away matches, have won two, including a victory in Kinshasa, drawn two, including one in Brazzaville, and lost only one game. From the 2012 to the 2015 AFCON qualifiers, these Warriors played 12 Nations Cup matches, won just four, drew three and lost five.

Since 2015, these Warriors have won five of the 11 AFCON qualifiers they have played in, drawn four and lost only two matches in a stunning turnaround of fortunes.

For 11 years, just like Woods, they wandered in the wilderness, but just like Tiger, the Warriors are back in the big time and, on June 21, they will be the focus of the continent in that Cairo showdown.

Now, it’s the Zambians watching from a distance.

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