AS the Warriors prepare for their crucial back-to-back African Cup of Nations qualifying fixtures against the Democratic Republic of Congo mid-next month, goalkeepers’ coach Brenna Msiska has gone down memory lane.
Msiska will arrive in Kinshasa for the first instalment of the Group G qualifiers with vivid memories of the 1995 debacle, which saw Zimbabwe losing 0-5 to the Central Africans amid dramatic scenes triggered by the fear of contracting the deadly Ebola virus on the part of Gibson Homela’s men.
A then highly-charged Zimbabwe, which boasted the likes of Francis Shonhayi, Adam Ndlovu and Vitalis Takawira needed three points out of three matches for them to seal a maiden berth at the Nations Cup finals which were to be played in South Africa the following year.
A smash-and-grab opportunity to beat Malawi at home in the first of the last three outings had gone begging following a goalless stalemate in a match the team didn’t adequately prepare for as the players spent most of their time calling for Homela’s head.
Zimbabwe were, however, largely touted to beat the DRC (then Zaire) in their next match away and there was general belief that the Warriors would be part of the cast in the biannual tournament in South Africa.
But along came a serious hurdle – Ebola!
The entire members of the first team boycotted the team in fear of contracting the deadly virus.
Most of the players had reported for camp ahead of the trip to DRC, but started to chicken out citing fear of the deadly virus.
Despite safety assurances from the World Health Organisation, the players could not budge and Homela had to assemble a make-shift squad just hours before departure.
The makeshift team included Mercedes Sibanda, Jimmy Mbewe, Joseph Dube, Nesbert Saruchera, Shepherd Muradzikwa, Isaac Riyano, Kennedy Nagoli, Joe Mugabe, Chipo Tsodzo and Gift Lunga.
Despite being brave enough to board the plane to the then Zaire, the players could not show the same courage on the pitch as they literary avoided physical contact with the home team’s players.
The hosts took full advantage of the scenario to wallop the visitors 5-0.
As fate would have it, the Warriors failed to pick a point in their 1-2 loss to Cameroon in their final group game and they missed out on the chance to qualify for South Africa ’96.
Twenty three years on, Msiska has not forgotten that horror trip as he prepares to return to the DRC as coach.
“That trip was hell. Everyone was in fear of the deadly Ebola virus that had spread in that country during that time,” said Msiska.
“The entire team boycotted and decided to withdraw from the camp.
“Although the World Health Organisation had given us assurances that we would be safe in Zaire, the fear was always there.
“The disease was portrayed in such a way that we would all die if we come into contact with those infected. There was a lot of misconception about everything.
“In other words, we just went there to fulfil a fixture as we never showed any zeal to compete.
“We were literally overrun by our opponents.
“Interestingly, our opponents were very surprised to see us avoiding physical contact with them. They eventually took advantage of our state and hit us for five.
“We had to up our act towards the end of the match as we needed to avoid a humiliation and kept the score line at 5-0,” Msiska said.
Msiska believes had the senior players not boycotted or those who eventually flew to Zaire had played competitively, Zimbabwe would have won that match and secure their place in South Africa.
“I believe we would have won that game had all the players participated.
“Even those who went to Zaire should have won with the right attitude,”
Zimbabwe play DRC on October 13, in Kinshasa before hosting the same opponents at the National Sports Stadium three days later.
The Warriors are on top of Group G standings due to a superior goal difference over DRC whom they have an equal number of points (4)
Congo Brazzaville and Liberia have a point each.
Msiska believes the current squad they have can beat DRC home and away unlike what happened in 1995 as Zimbabwe seek qualification for next year’s finals to be staged in Cameroon.