By Enock Muchinjo
IN a fortnight, Zimbabwe will begin a new journey, the way the last one started two years ago: an opening Africa Cup of Nations qualification tie with an interim coach at the helm.
And just like the last time out, Zimbabwe will launch their quest against an opposition that should not offer much resistance to the calibre of Warriors unity we expect to take to the park at Barbourfields Stadium on November 15.
Liberia were lambs to the slaughter in June 2017 when Knowledge Musona’s hat-trick propelled a fired-up Zimbabwe to a comfortable 3-0 win in the opening qualifier of the 2019 Nations Cup finals.
This time around it is Botswana, perennial underachievers in African football, who are the first opponent for a Zimbabwe team under the temporary tutelage of Joey Antipas.
Antipas though — unlike Norman Mapeza in 2017 — will take the reins for much longer in this campaign, not taking into account, of course, any dramatic twists along the way.
If one is to count out Botswana as a real threat on November 15, it means then that the first test of pedigree for the Warriors will come four days later in Lusaka against a Zambia side that despite being a pale shadow of its old self, has the ingredients to rise up again at any given time.
Very few teams in Africa will enjoy being the opposition if this real footballing nation puts together a group of players that knows what it means to be Chipolopolo.
But we must not dismiss this fact: international football in Zimbabwe and Zambia is in different modes at the moment.For Zambia not to qualify for two consecutive Africa Cup of Nations finals, like what happened in 2017 and 2019, is collective national shame for the country.
Contrary, Zimbabwe — after enduring a miserable 12-year-spell on the periphery of African football’s biggest stage — the Warriors have been at the previous two Nations Cup tournaments.
Never mind the results — Egypt 2019 disintegrated into a horror show for Zimbabwe and shattered our expectations quite brutally — but with good reason, one could argue that it is the Warriors who have the momentum right now going into a game against Zambia.
What of the other team in the group, Algeria, the new champions of the continent who romped to their second African title earlier on this year in Egypt?
No doubt the Desert Foxes are the benchmark of the pool and will have their tales high, like the champions they are.
They deserve respect, like everybody. But a message to a team like Zimbabwe is not to over-respect. It is too easy to get awestruck and totally lose the plot out on the park.
As the lesser team, the underdog if you like, the onus is more on you to get the basics right, to minimise the errors — and let your opponent fully earn every goal, every point. And as for Zimbabwe, after numerous boardroom upheavals in the game — which we sincerely hope are over — the time is now, for sure, to get it right on the field of play.
Marvelous Nakamba’s marvelous start to his English Premiership career inculcates a feel-good effect, which should lift up everybody when the new Aston Villa man reports for national duty.
A free-scoring striker, Macauley Bonne, playing for Charlton Athletic in the second-tier of the English professional set-up, could be in the mix for Zimbabwe this campaign and beyond if bureaucratic bottlenecks are overcome.
Knowledge Musona, the talismanic national team goalscorer, is back in the Warriors fold and you just feel he still got some more goals left in him for Zimbabwe before he hangs up his boots.
And the crafty Khama Billiat gets more and more reliable in the colours of his country. With such resources, and more, you should not be scared to dream again.