WORLD CUP DREAMS

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
PROPHET Walter Magaya says the pain of being forced to always watch, and even support, other countries at the FIFA World Cup finals has inspired him to embark on an ambitious project to recruit and nurture some of the best teenage footballers in this country under one roof.

The football-mad prophet believes the time has come for Zimbabweans to start laying the foundation on which the country could build strong national teams capable of successfully competing for a place at the World Cup finals.

He said football was changing around the globe, with the traditional lightweights like Panama, showing the way by qualifying for their first appearance at the World Cup finals.

Panama, a country of just four million people and fielding a player who has more caps for his national team than his Belgian club, qualified for their first World Cup after a stunning 2-1 win over Costa Rica in the final qualifier.

The same Costa Rica who shut out the star-studded Brazilians throughout regulation time, in their group match in Russia, only to concede twice in time added on when the record World Cup winners struck through Philippe Coutinho and Neymar.

Even though Panama slumped to a 1-6 defeat at the hands of England, in their last match, they displayed a remarkable fightback in the second half, in which they only conceded once through a freak Harry Kane goal and even scored their first World Cup goal.

A country that was once ranked as low as 151st in the world has somehow found a way to punch above its weight and qualify for the World Cup finals.

Against Belgium, who are one of the favourites for this World Cup, they held the European side to a goalless first half only for their inexperience to let them down as they conceded three goals in the second period with Romelo Lukaku scoring a double.

Iceland are the smallest nation, in terms of population, to qualify for the World Cup after earning their first ticket to the showcase by making it to Russia where they remain in contention for a place in the Round of 16.

Their coach, Heimir Hallgrimsson, is a part-time gaffer given that he is a dentist but he somehow managed to inspire his country, with a population of only 348 580 people, to the World Cup in a remarkable achievement given football isn’t played outdoors for about half the year in that nation because of freezing conditions.

Peru ended 36 years of waiting by qualifying for the 2018 World Cup finals.

Magaya, who took Yadah Stars into the Premiership and has been a regular benefactor of the Warriors, said the time had come for the country to draw up a master-plan that will see the Warriors one day taking their place at the World Cup finals.

He said he has started playing his small part with his ambitious project which will see him recruiting some of the finest teenage footballers, from across the country, and housing them under one roof where they can get expert guidance from some of the best coaches.

He has targeted schools and started his mission with a recruitment exercise in Harare two weeks ago and plans to expand it across the entire country.

‘’My vision now has changed from the Premier League to the grassroots and I am spending a lot of weekends scouting for talent which is in our schools,’’ Magaya said.

‘’I believe that we have scores of brilliant footballers who are in our schools, especially in the rural areas, who I think, given the right conditions and support, can be helped to become superb football stars who can do wonders for our country.

‘’We are natural athletes as Zimbabweans and we have shown, now and again, that we can produce some fantastic football stars, like Peter Ndlovu, Bruce Grobbelaar, you name them, and we have a lot of others who can be helped to fulfil their dreams.

‘’In the last couple of weeks I have been working on this project, spending time with some coaches to recruit those we believe can really flourish if they get the right technical guidance from experienced coaches, and we will bring them under one roof where they can be nurtured.

‘’My dream is to have the national coach, Sunday Chidzambwa, help us in this project because what we want is to build a nursery that can give our country some excellent football stars who can do wonders in the colours of the Warriors.

‘’We cannot continue forever watching other nations playing at the World Cup as if we can’t get there, if we all put our heads together, and there is no short-cut here because we have to go to the basics and develop our grassroots.

‘’We have the facilities, we have a very good football ground that will be completed, and there will be other facilities that will be added, to ensure the students that we choose can use them for their training and we have the accommodation facilities.

‘’This isn’t a small project but a big one and, with time, it can transform the face of football in Zimbabwe and that will make me happy because I have always preached that it will be my dream to one day see my country playing at the World Cup.’’ Magaya said it’s not a coincidence that, despite the Warriors never having qualified for the World Cup, the interest in the services of local players remain high among some foreign clubs.

‘’That shows we have the natural talent but we should be doing more to ensure that all the best possible players are provided with the right environment to prosper and that will, in the long run, benefit the national team,’’ he said.

‘’The World Cup is showing that it’s no longer just a playground for the traditional heavyweights.’’

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