Sharuko On Saturday
AN explosion of boundless joy shook Harare Central Hospital on Sunday afternoon and, given the grim reality of the tears for departed folks and desperate concern for sick relatives — which is usually the sombre picture of this place — the unexpected roar of happiness was very refreshing.
My brother-in-law, Simbarashe Dakwa, whose passion for football has severely been tested by his lifelong romance with Arsenal, heard the roar from inside his vehicle in the visitors’ car park.
The concerns about his sick relative, whom he had come to pay a visit, had consumed his thoughts and somehow made him forget that, at that very time, a big international football game was being played in Brazzaville.
As the wave of celebrations spread, with many feeding into the ecstasy as the news also reached them, he reached out for his mobile phone to be greeted by the feel-good news, on virtually all his WhatsApp groups, of what had happened.
Even his church WhatsApp group, where members usually only discuss issues related to their faith, the Bible, Jesus Christ and their religious attachment to Roman Catholicism, had some messages of the unfolding drama in Brazzaville.
Khama Billiat had scored to propel the Warriors into the lead and trigger this wave of joy, among millions of the team’s fans back home, including those at Harare Hospital.
Then my brother-in-law remembered he had read somewhere, in one of the newspapers, earlier that week that Khama was DEFINITELY not going to play in this match.
But then, he told me, he reminded himself it wasn’t the first, and certainly not the last, time in which newspapers had forced down his throat, what they claimed was gospel, only for things to turn out differently.
After all, he had also read somewhere that Nyasha Mushekwi would snub the call for national duty, because of some perceived personal issues, with those who were running the game.
That Mushekwi eventually made the half-the-world trip from China, as a mark of respect for his coach’s decision to recall him, and also as a demonstration of his commitment to his country, even though he was injured, didn’t even shame these preachers of doom.
Maybe, my brother-in-law felt, there was a constituency that didn’t want Nyasha to play for the team because it would suit their narrow interests, which were divorced from the grand interests of those who had converted the country’s largest referral hospital, into a theatre for their celebrations.
Those who would rather script or read a story pregnant with negativity, when it comes to this team, rather than a feel-good tale like the one that had sent those people at Harare Hospital into a frenzy.
Soon, another roar exploded and, once again, he reached out for his phone and began another search on his WhatsApp group messages.
Of course, unlike the previous occasion, this roar quickly faded, and someone soon posted that Knowledge Musona had missed a glorious chance, with only the ‘keeper to beat, for what should have been the second insurance goal.
By the time the Congolese equalised, shortly after the interval, the visiting hour was well and truly underway at Harare Hospital.
But such was the massive interest in the events in Brazzaville, someone in the ward even yelled his disappointment that the hosts had levelled matters.
There is something magical about the Warriors that make them such a massive box-office attraction to the people of this country.
The connection between them and their fans is simply incredible and the more they have seemingly failed, on the big stage, the stronger the bond, between them and their fans, has become.
And, if all this beautiful chaos, as observed by my brother-in-law, could explode at Harare Hospital, of all places, as their fans followed the events in Brazzaville, what else was happening in the bars, sports clubs and across the entire country amid all this wave of expectations and celebrations?
DAMNED IF THEY FAIL, DAMNED IF THEY SUCCEED
The Warriors eventually settled for a point in Brazzaville to remain top of a group where the ultimate mission is to finish, among the top two, to qualify for the next AFCON finals in Cameroon.
But that result, in punishing steamy conditions on an artificial surface, didn’t receive universal approval by the usual suspects, who would have preferred a defeat for the Warriors to boost their agenda, which is only fuelled in a toxic environment pregnant with negativity, to help them fight their battles.
The very constituency that believes a success story for the Warriors, including qualification for the AFCON finals, works against their crusade to preach the gospel that domestic football is in a mess, and is desperately crying out for a helping hand, to pluck it out of its quagmire.
The very constituency that believes success for the Warriors will provide those they are fighting against, in the never-ending charade of the boardroom battles that have crippled progress for years, with more ammunition to repel their advance.
The very constituency that also believes a good run by the Warriors is not good because it will provide the country with a reason to celebrate, as was the case with those people at Harare Hospital, and scores of other areas across the country.
Something which they believe shouldn’t happen because it doesn’t serve their interests well, because such interests only flourish in an environment of toxicity and negativity.
Yes, the Warriors could have, and should have, won the match in Brazzaville, given the way they dominated the first half and the chances they created, including one which, on another day, another assignment, Musona would have converted with his eyes firmly closed.
But to dismiss the point they gained, in that match, where the opponents woke up from a first half slumber to show why they rarely lose at home, will be an insult to the heroic efforts of the boys, who fought long and hard on Sunday, in the name of their country and were duly rewarded with a massive point.
To reduce their adventure in Brazzaville to a narrative dominated by negativity, because they gained a point as some have regrettably done, is not only unfortunate, but certainly a betrayal of the fine efforts which these Warriors put into that shift.
To find cold comfort in the argument that this was all about two points dropped, and not a point won, as some specialists of negativity have been doing all week, is to discredit the heroism which shone very brightly, among most of those Warriors, in difficult terrain.
Just the mere fact that this was a team that didn’t have the benefit of about half of its regular players, with injuries ravaging its camp, should have been enough to show that the point they picked was worth its weight in gold, and should have been celebrated, rather than ridiculed.
That the Warriors have won only TWO games, when it comes to World Cup or Nations Cup qualifiers, on foreign soil, in the last 14 years — a 2-1 win over Malawi in Blantyre on June 13, 2015, and a 2-0 victory over Rwanda in Kigali on July 3, 2004 — should have provided the background that this isn’t a team that usually wins on the road and the point won in Brazzaville was a BIG one.
As if these prophets of doom don’t know that, along the way, the Warriors have played 22 World Cup/AFCON matches on the road in the past 14 years and they have lost 15 times and drawn only five games.
As if they don’t know that the Warriors failed to score in 12 of those matches and only scored more than one goal, in THREE games — against Algeria in a 2006 World Cup/Nations Cup qualifier on June 19, 2005, against Namibia in a 2010 World Cup/Nations Cup qualifier in Windhoek on October 11, 2008 and against Malawi.
As if they don’t know that there was a time, during that period in the last 14 years when, for FOUR years, only one man, Musona, scored for the Warriors in away World Cup/Nations Cup qualifiers.
You would have expected that a team with such a miserable record, away from home, and without half of its regular players, would be hailed for getting a point in Brazzaville, where their hosts have only lost ONCE to Ghana, in their last seven AFCON/World Cup home matches, to show they remain difficult opponents.
But, not here in Zimbabwe, a football community pregnant with preachers of doom who only SEE EVIL, SPEAK EVIL AND WHO ONLY WANT TO HEAR EVIL see evil about the game, and its flagship team, in this country. You feel pity for the Warriors, damned if they win, and damned again if they fail to win.
The good thing, though, is that these prophets of doom don’t represent the majority because, as shown at Harare Hospital on Sunday, the majority are in the corner of their national team.
THAT KIT AND THE SILLY ARGUMENT OF CONGO BEING ORDINARY
Comically, others — desperate for one negative angle — decided to say that there was something terribly wrong with the kit the Warriors used in that game because it was not branded.
Fair and fine.
But these were also the same people who, not so long ago, cheered the decision by the Zambian football authorities to terminate their deal with Mafro because the company had failed to deliver as had been expected.
What did the Zambians do, after that, well, they went to a local supplier and came up with their Kopa Brand, a home-made kit they have been using since abruptly cutting all ties with Mafro?
If there is criticism that should be directed towards ZIFA, then it must be about the way they have let their romance with Mafro remain alive for so long, despite clear signs that it was not adding any value to the game.
Once the issue of the kit had been dealt with, those who have been preaching the gospel of negativity then suggested that the Congolese side, which the Warriors played on Sunday, was a very ordinary team and should have been beaten by our boys in that showdown.
But a closer look at the players show that they are not ordinary at all and many of them even play for far better teams than the ones which our Warriors play for.
Goalkeeper Chancel Massa, Dmitri Magnoleke and Junior Makiesse helped AC Leopards win the CAF Confederation Cup just six years ago, an achievement which none of our clubs has ever managed.
The domestic league in Congo-Brazzaville is not weak either and, at the last CHAN finals in Morocco this year, the national team topped a group that had Angola, Cameroon and Burkina Faso.
Marvin Baudry plays in Belgium, after a stint in France, Fernand Mayembo is a teammate of Tino Kadewere at French club Le Havre, Baron Kibamba is a 20-year-old talent who is in Spain at Real Balompedica, Dzon Delarge plays for Qarabag in Azerbaijani, the same team we wanted Khama to go and join.
Merveil Ndockyt is on the books of Spanish side Getafe from RCD Mallorca on loan and Thievy Bifouna, who scored the equaliser, plays in Turkey after a time in France, where he was born.
While the Congolese were giving the likes of Bifouna and Baudry, who were born in France, passports to enable them to play for them in international football, we are still failing to sort out the documents of players who have shown their willingness to play for us.
Bifouna, who beat George Chigova on Sunday, scored a brace on September 8, 2014, to help Congo-Brazzaville beat Nigeria 3-2 in Calabar in a 2015 AFCON qualifier, which marked the first time the Super Eagles had lost a competitive qualifier in the Nations Cup in 33 years at home.
If we should mourn a point picked on the road, against such plucky opponents, when we sent in a weakened side, what will Senegal’s World Cup stars, including Sadio Mane, do after being held in Madagascar?
Or Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions who were held by Comoros, or even the DRC stars who failed to beat Liberia and Zambia who have just a point from two games?
We all wanted a win, and so did those fans at Harare Hospital on Sunday, but a point was not a very poor result as these prophets of doom would want you to believe.
After all, these Red Devils are not ordinary, they are a proud African football nation and have won the AFCON title in the past.
And the last time they were here, they destroyed our dreams of making the AFCON finals for the first time in that 2-2 draw at the National Sports Stadium, blamed on the late goalkeeper John Sibanda.
Ask Moses Chunga and Peter Ndlovu and the thousands who remained in their seats at the giant stadium that day, long after the game had ended, about the pain inflicted by the events of that afternoon, and they will tell you these Congolese aren’t ordinary.