IN just eight days’ time, the Warriors of Zimbabwe face one of their biggest AFCON home assignments in about a quarter of a century when we host Congo-Brazzaville at the National Sports Stadium. It’s the final qualifier for the 2019 AFCON finals and we find ourselves having the luxury of needing just a draw to make it to Egypt later this year.
The challenge we have is that the opponents also come here with a realistic chance of securing that golden ticket as a win for them will be enough to get them to Egypt, too.
That it will a tough examination of our character, patience and pedigree is not even in doubt but, if we believe we are good enough to play at the AFCON finals, then we have to prove that by overcoming the obstacles thrown into our path in such tests.
It’s very likely that, because of the massive popularity of the Warriors among millions of Zimbabweans, nothing else will matter much during those two hours when during when the drama will be unfolding next Sunday.
Such is the importance of this match that we have seen injured midfielder Marvelous Nakamba telling us that, despite his unavailability for the game, he will travel from his base in Belgium to provide moral support to his teammates.
We have come too far, cleared many tough hurdles, including beating the DRC in their backyard and holding these Congolese in Brazzaville for us to fall now, especially in our fortress.
But, as our victory in Kinshasa showed, nothing should be taken for granted and these days any team can win anywhere. After all, these visiting Congolese went to Nigeria a few years ago and beat the Super Eagles in their own backyard.
However, what is disturbing are reports which emerged on Thursday of the challenges which members of our Warriors technical team have been experiencing just to try and ensure they get a playing surface that suits the interests of our players at the National Sports Stadium.
The hostility they have been getting from those tasked with managing the stadium, who have done a horrible job in the past three decades in which our premier sports facility has suffered considerably from poor management, is shocking.
No one knows what our players want, in order to serve their nation as best as they can, more than our technical team because they are very knowledgeable of the conditions that will help our stars thrive.
Everywhere in world football, home teams create conditions that suit their interests and that give them home advantage, and it’s also the same in cricket where the wicket is prepared to suit the strengths of the hosts and cripple the visitors.
This means a team whose strength is in batting will prepare a wicket that favours high scores, a team whose strength is in their spin attack will also prepare a wicket where the ball turns a lot while a team whose strength is in pace will also prepare a wicket that favours fast bowling.
But, it appears, here in Zimbabwe we don’t care about all those small but important details and, now and again, we have heard complaints from our leading footballers that the poor playing surface at the National Sports Stadium does not make them gain the home advantage they will be hoping for.
However, it’s disappointing that those who have been employed to ensure that our biggest sports facility remains in good shape have not only neglected it but, as happened on Thursday, are not even willing to listen to the concerns of the Warriors team management.
We must be the only country in the world which, when preparing for such a massive national assignment like the forthcoming football match for our Warriors, find itself having to deal with some people who are not even willing to listen to the concerns of the men who will be flying our flag that very day.
Those 11 men, who will start the game next Sunday, and any substitutes who might be thrown into the fray, will not be playing only for themselves and their families but for every one of us, the more than 15 million people who proudly call themselves Zimbabweans.
We owe it to them to provide them with all the support they need and, critically, nothing is better than providing them with the playing surface that suits their style of football, which will ensure that Khama Billiat can have the right pitch to be able to execute the close control that is a huge part of his weaponry.
There is no question that the state of our main stadium, especially the playing surface, is in poor shape and people who were employed to maintain it have been sleeping on the job for a very long time without being censured.
Even the Confederation of African Football noted, as much, during their report released last month after an inspection of the giant stadium and, sad to say, nothing was done between that report and now and, crucially, even when the Warriors technical team offered a helping hand to prepare the surface that suits their players, at no cost to those who have failed to maintain it, they were rebuffed.
We can’t allow our Warriors to fail, especially because we didn’t do the basics to make them succeed, because we badly need a good result next Sunday.