WHAT a rollercoaster campaign it has been for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon)-bound Zimbabwe senior men’s football team, the Warriors.
First, they kicked off the Afcon qualifiers with a gruelling 748,6km bus trip to Lilongwe to play Malawi after the then Cuthbert Dube-led football governing body failed to raise money for air tickets and the team arrived on the morning of the big tie.
And despite going on to confound expectations by sealing their spot at the 2017 Gabon Afcon finals — their first qualification in a decade — with a game to spare, it was the same old story for the Warriors as the Philip Chiyangwa-led Zifa administration yet again bungled the team’s travel arrangements.
Chaotic travel arrangements characterised the team’s departure for Guinea with the Warriors finally departing for Conakry last night for the Group L dead rubber to be played at Stade du 28 Septembre in Conakry this evening.
Kick-off is 7pm local time and the match will be shown live on SuperSport.
The team left via a chartered Air Zimbabwe plane, Boeing 767-2N0, which brought back President Robert Mugabe from Dubai yesterday, following a last-minute intervention of government through the Sports and Recreation minister Makhosini Hlongwane.
Hlongwane told Standardsport that his ministry had to look for additional funding to add to the $68 000 sponsorship unveiled by mobile network provider NetOne for them to secure the chartered plane.
“We managed to secure the chartered plane for the Warriors. We had to look for some money in addition to that which had been availed by NetOne because that was for a regular flight. The only thing that’s left is to get over flight right clearances and that process was handled by Air Zimbabwe,” he said.
But for long periods yesterday, it seemed as if the Warriors would fail to fulfil the dead rubber encounter, risking a hefty punishment from the Confederation of African Football (Caf), who normally do not take such maladministration lightly.
In fact, the Warriors risked being disqualified from the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals set for Gabon in January altogether had they failed to fulfil today’s fixture.
Warriors skipper Willard Katsande, whose charges will only have a few hours to recover from jet lag before taking to the pitch, however, remained upbeat.
“As professionals, we need to be ready for anything. We can’t talk much about the travel arrangements. Our job is to focus on playing the game and we are happy that we are going. We are not going there just to fulfil our fixture but to be competitive,” he said just before the team’s departure.
In June, Zimbabwe sealed its spot for Gabon 2017 following an emphatic home 3-0 win over Malawi, but then Zifa went to town celebrating the achievement and forgot to comeback.
The cash-strapped organisation had 91 days to prepare for the Guinea fixture since they played Malawi in June, but in classic Zifa style, they only started making arrangements to secure sponsorship for air tickets on Friday.
When contacted for comment early yesterday for an update on the developments, a panicky Chiyangwa vented his frustrations on Standardsport.
“I am busy trying to make sure the team travels and you are busy calling me,” he snapped as the line went dead at the other end.
Luckily for the current Chiyangwa-led administration, results have been coming in the field of play, but so far, they have matched if not outdone their predecessors in the arena of bungling.
Earlier in the week, Warriors coach Kalisto Pasuwa had made a damning prophecy regarding the travel arrangements for this trip to West Africa.
“One area is how we prepare ourselves and the time to acclimatise there, but I again I foresee some problems that will come in the part of our travelling arrangements,” he said.
“We would have wanted maybe a day or two in Guinea together with the other boys who are going there directly,” he said on the sidelines of training on Wednesday.
And for sure, the problems came, leaving the coach with the difficult job of trying to psyche up the boys instead of deliberating on tactics.
“We have been people who want to rely mostly on luck now. We have been talking to the boys to try and psyche them. We have also gone to the extent of even calming down the boys who went directly to Guinea because they were also afraid that we were going to fail to fulfill this fixture,” he added.
“As a coach, it affects us a lot, but this fixture has to be fulfilled. So the biggest task is to talk to the boys to focus on the broader picture than to look at the present.”
Pasuwa left the country with 13 players who have been camping here in Zimbabwe, who will link up with the other four Europe-based players, namely Costa Nhamoinesu, Marvelous Nakamba, Knowledge Musona and Matthew Rusike.
The Zimbabwe team left Harare International Airport at 8pm last night and was scheduled to arrive in Conakry after well after 2am this morning.
T Mukuruva, C Nhamoinesu, T Hadebe, O Bhasera, B Moyo, W Katsande, M Nakamba, M Rusike, K Musona, T Ndoro, E Rusike- standard