Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
THE Beast from the East first slammed into Mozambique, where the Warriors’ international football journey started 50 years ago, and then tore into Zimbabwe, with vicious winds and deadly floods, leaving a trail of death and destruction across the path devoured by its fury.
As the body count mounted across the region, after the pounding it took at the hands of Cyclone Idai, whose rampaging winds of about 177kms per hour, and accompanying floods, Zimbabweans from around the world united in mobilising help for the victims of this powerful and destructive force of nature.
After a grim weekend in which depressing images of the destruction cause by Cyclone Idai flooded both mainstream and social media, in yet another heart-wrenching reminder of humanity’s powerlessness when confronted with the full force of nature, the nation started a new working week yesterday under the shadow of the tragedy.
And the country’s football, whose international journey began on the neutral fields of Mozambique in November 1969 with that three-match 1970 World Cup qualifier against Australia, now has the responsibility to provide the nation with something to cheer its devastated spirits, when the Warriors battle the Red Devils of Congo on Sunday.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association Council, Executive Committee and Secretariat joins the nation in solidarity with the people of Chimanimani and Manicaland affected by the devastating cyclone Idai,’’ ZIFA president Felton Kamambo.
“We would like to extend our sympathies and solidarity to all the victims, their families, their loved ones, all those who are still fighting for their lives, and those who are by their side, fighting along with them.
“We are deeply touched by the concern and support shown by Zimbabweans in coming up with initiatives to assist victims of the floods which hit Eastern parts of the country particularly Chimanimani.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been affected by the humanitarian crisis. This is a time for all Zimbabweans to put all differences aside and make a difference.
“We as ZIFA will contribute in our own small way towards the national effort to rescue our fellow citizens.”
Sunday Chidzambwa’s men started trooping into camp yesterday for their make-or-break final 2019 AFCON showdown against the Congolese at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday where, at the very worst, a draw would be enough to secure a ticket to the Nations Cup finals in Egypt this year.
After days of incessant rain in the capital, the sun broke out just after 3pm yesterday as the first troops of Warriors began checking in into their camping site at the Yadah Hotel in capital, with bright sunshine replacing the gloomy and grey conditions that had dominated the skyline.
It’s a unique camp, where the country’s best football talent, the current and next generation of Warriors, will be in one place as they prepare for the weekend’s international assignments, and it is expected to help the two teams bond while on this mission to serve their country.
The Young Warriors, especially the new Euro-based crop in camp for the first time, after choosing to wear the colours of their fatherland instead of where they grew up in Europe, could also pick a lesson or two from veterans like Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat about the values of representing Zimbabwe.
“We are privileged to host the boys again and while we have done this for the Warriors in this campaign in the past, it’s the first time we are hosting the Young Warriors and hopefully the notes the new boys, especially those in camp for the first time from their bases in Europe, will learn something from the veterans about the importance of being sports ambassadors for this country,’’ said ZIFA benefactor Walter Magaya.
“There were concerns raised by the Young Warriors about the standards of the facilities at the ZIFA Village and we decided to bring them here because these boys are also representing our country and they are the future of Zimbabwean football and we should make them feel special.
“Our country has suffered enormously in the past few days, with the Cyclone wreaking havoc around the nation and destroying the lives of our fellow citizens, livestock and homes and, in such times, we need to be united and while these Warriors and Young Warriors cannot replace what we have lost, at least, they can provide us with something to smile about with victories in their forthcoming matches.’’
The choice of the camping site, where the players of the resident Premiership side Yadah Stars, who are also in camp preparing for the domestic top-flight season, pray before breakfast, before the morning training session, before lunch and just after the evening session, could not have been more appropriate for the Warriors.
After all, their team manager, Wellington Mpandare, declared last week that they were riding on the power of their prayers, and faith in the Lord, to confront the Congolese Red devils after news broke out that their opponents had sent in their Nyamamabe, a specialist of the dark mystical arts, to Harare to try and help their cause.
“Every Zimbabwean has felt the huge impact that Cyclone Idai has had on our country and the tragedy it has caused and our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost their loved ones,’’ Mpandare told The Herald.
“We know we can’t bring back those we have lost but we can try and ensure we provide our country with something to smile about, which this nation badly needs right now in times of such grief, and there is no better way to do that than get the right result we need on Sunday against Congo.
“After the cyclone struck, for us as Warriors, the match on Sunday assumed a bigger meaning and we know we can’t let our country down and inflict more damage on a nation that needs its spirits to be lifted by a good story.’’
The last time these Congolese were here for a similar do-or-die AFCON fixture, back in 1991, Zimbabwe was about to reel from its worst drought in living memory, which also affected large parts of Southern Africa, with the this country suffering the brunt of that nightmare, with more than one million cattle dying.
Acute water shortages followed while the drought also hammered the country’s dairy industry and affected schools and industries.
The Warriors failed to clear the hurdle erected by the Congolese that year, after a 2-2 draw at the National Sports Stadium gave the visitors the result they needed to qualify for the ‘92 AFCON finals.
The fallout from that heartbreaking failure is still being felt in domestic football today and, more than a quarter-a-century later, the Warriors have another challenge, against the same Congolese, to try and turn things around and cheer the spirits of a nation reeling from yet another devastating natural disaster.