Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
EXACTLY seven years after Norman Mapeza guided the Warriors in their opening 2012 Nations Cup qualifier against Liberia, life will come full circle for the gaffer when he, once again, takes charge of his country’s first 2019 AFCON qualifying battle against the same West African opponents next month.
The Warriors will get their campaign to qualify for second successive Nations Cup finals in Cameroon in 2019 with a home date against Liberia’s Lone Stars, whose skipper is Athony Laffor — a teammate of Khama Billiat at Mamelodi Sundowns — at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on June 11.
The 32-year-old Liberian captain featured in that drawn opening 2012 AFCON qualifier in Monrovia on September 5, 2010 against a Warriors’ side under the guidance of Mapeza, with Knowledge Musona giving Zimbabwe a first-half lead, only for Sekou Olisheh to reply for the hosts in the second half.
And, seven years down the line, the two countries will again meet in an opening game of the Nations Cup qualifiers next month and Mapeza will be in charge of the Warriors in that match after ZIFA yesterday revealed that they had handed responsibility for that match to the FC Platinum gaffer.
“Norman will be the Warriors’ coach against Liberia when we begin our 2017 AFCON campaign and right now we are completing the relevant processes to ensure that his attachment with the national team, for that match, is above board by engaging his employers FC Platinum who have been very supportive of our national assignments in the past,’’ ZIFA vice-president Omega Sibanda told The Herald.
“We have come up with a decision to retain the technical team that was in charge of the Warriors, when they played their last international friendly match under Norman, for the game against Liberia and that means Mandla Mpofu, the Bulawayo City coach, and Tonderai Ndiraya, the Ngezi Platinum coach, will be his assistants.
“The goalkeepers’ coach will be Tembo Chuma of How Mine, whom we are sending to Cameroon today (yesterday) for a CAF instructors’ course so that he becomes an instructor in that specialised field since we only have one instructor in that area in the country and that is not acceptable if you really want to develop the game the way we want. Wellington Mpandare will continue in his role as team manager, Tongai Mufandaedza will retain his role as the kit manager while the medical team, which was also in charge of the Warriors during that friendly match against Zambia, will be in charge against Liberia.
“This is a massive game that we need to win and we believe Norman has the capacity to deliver the result the nation wants and he will be given all the support that he needs to ensure that he succeeds because our mission as an association is to ensure that the Warriors qualify again for the AFCON finals.’’
Mapeza guided the Warriors to a draw against Liberia in Monrovia, at the start of the 2012 Nations Cup qualifiers, before ZIFA’S intervention saw those who were in charge of the country’s football back then, smuggling Tom Saintfiet into the team’s set-up, as the head coach, only for the Belgian to be deported for working in this country without a work permit.
With all that drama happening just days before the Warriors hosted Cape Verde, in their second qualifier, the problems in the team’s camp filtered through to the players. And when ZIFA settled for a funny arrangement where Mapeza and Madinda Ndlovu were made joint coaches for that match against the Blue Sharks, the team predictably struggled and fired blanks in a goalless draw.
The two points they dropped at home that day would return to haunt the Warriors, at the end of the qualifying campaign, as they finished two points behind Mali who won the group and qualified for the 2012 Nations Cup finals.
Mapeza, though, had led his men to a 2-1 win over Mali at Rufaro, with Musona hitting a double, including a last-gasp penalty, and a comfortable 3-0 thrashing of Liberia at the National Sports Stadium during that campaign.
To demonstrate that the Mali team, which just beat the Warriors to a ticket to the 2012 Nations Cup finals was a quality side, those Eagles went all the way to finish third in the finals and, a year later in South Africa, they then finished third at the 2013 AFCON finals.
Cape Verde were on the rise and in March last year they made history when they became the smallest nation to be ever ranked as Africa’s number one football nation on the FIFA rankings.
Critics have questioned why ZIFA have not settled for a coach who will devote his energies solely on the Warriors but the Association have said they need more time to get the right man for the job given the next AFCON qualifier will come nine months after the battle against Liberia when Zimbabwe visit Congo-Brazzaville.
ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa has also pointed to the DRC, the other team in the Warriors’ 2019 Nations Cup group, as a nation that has proved that a competent coach can handle both his club and national team duties. Florent Ibenge doubles up as the coach of Kinshasa giants AS Vita, who are in the group stages of the 2017 Champions League, and the DRC national team and, under his watch, the Congolese have finished third at the 2015 Nations Cup finals and topped a group that featured Cote d’Ívoire, Morocco and Togo in Gabon at this year’s AFCON finals.
The Congolese also won the 2016 CHAN title in Rwanda under Ibenge’s guidance while AS Vita reached the final of the 2014 CAF Champions League final, losing to Algerian side ES Setif on the away goals after a 3-3 aggregate scoreline, having eliminated both Dynamos — then under Callisto Pasuwa — and Kaizer Chiefs, who had Musona among their players during his loan spell at the Amakhosi, along the way. As Vita also knocked out Mamelodi Sundowns from last year’s CAF Champions League only for the Congolese giants to be disqualified, for using an ineligible player in an earlier match against Tanzanian club Mafunzo, and the South African side were reinstated in the tournament and took full advantage of their second chance to go all the way and win the tournament.