BY MICHAEL KARIATI
ZIMBABWE football followers are unanimous in agreement that the draw for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) was fair, but that does not guarantee the Warriors’ easy passage to the second round of the continental football showpiece.
In comparison with the groups the Warriors were drawn in previous editions of the competition, this is probably the easiest four-team group that Zimbabwe has been placed in since 2004 when they made their maiden Afcon appearance in Tunisia.
Surely, a group that has the likes of Guinea, Malawi and Senegal cannot be described as all that difficult unless — as usual — we fall prey to the same self-made problems that have contributed to our well-documented failures.
The truth is that Senegal will be a tough opponent, but we are capable of overcoming Guinea and Malawi. The least we should do is to qualify as one of the best third placed teams with a win over Malawi and probably a draw with Guinea.
For the Flames of Malawi themselves, the fact that they are at this Afcon finals is an achievement itself and a goal would be celebrated back in Lilongwe as if they would have won the tournament.
For the Warriors, the starting point should be to erase the doubts we have in our coach Zdravko Logarusic and give him all the support he needs because as things stand right now, he is going nowhere — whether we like it or not.
Logarusic, for his part, should not be pressured in his team selection and should be spot on in his choice of players for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers which will also serve as preparations for Afcon 2021.
Loga should shut out the noise from the fans and player agents, both at home and abroad, and choose the best Zimbabwean players available because after all, he will take the blame for failure.
After all, the Croatian himself has a personal agenda at Afcon. He will be there to make history with Zimbabwe and in the process demand a contract extension or alternatively catch the eyes of better paying countries who will get rid of their coaches after Afcon.
Loga will also not cry foul over lack of preparations since the Warriors will use the 2022 World Cup qualifiers as a stepping stone to Afcon 2021 by fine-tuning his team for the continental finals.
Sadly though, Zimbabwe’s lack of success at Afcon will also depend on the efforts by our football leaders at Zifa and in particular in the manner they will handle issues to do with player allowances and bonuses ahead of the trip to Cameroon.
On several occasions, the Warriors have revolted against Zifa over non-payment of promised bonuses with the latest having been, just before, the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt.
The Zimbabwean team nearly ruined the whole tournament after they threatened not to fulfil their opening fixture against hosts, Egypt — which was also the tournament’s opening match.
At that tournament, Zimbabwe were also in what appeared a fair group alongside Egypt, Congo DR and Uganda, but found themselves finishing rock bottom with only one point due to the off field distractions.
This was after the same team had also boycotted a presidential dinner just before their departure for the 2017 Afcon finals in Gabon when under the coaching guidance of Kalisto Pasuwa.
It is this same old problem that threatens Zimbabwe’s success at Afcon 2021 and it is important that Zifa settles all what they owe our players before another national football disaster strikes.
Although Caf has hinted they will be dishing out player bonuses, there is nothing that thrills or satisfies the players more than being rewarded by their own country for a job well-done.
On that premise, Zifa should create good rapport with the Sport and Recreation Commission so that when it comes for funding from the government, the process becomes easy.
More importantly is that Zifa should put in motion their Warriors fund raising activities for Afcon so that when they seek assistance elsewhere they have a starting point.
Surely, we have seen our hopes deflated over and over again but we cannot allow failures of the past to dictate our future and now is the time to make a mark on African football.
The draw has been conducted but our success at Afcon 2021 depends heavily on what we do between now and January 6 when the tournament roars into life.
Surely, winning the Nations Cup might be over ambitious, but securing a place in the last 16 is possible only if we do the right things now.
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