TOMORROW, the trailblazing South Africa Under-17 national football team, with a nickname that is both likeable and warlike, the Amajimbos, could bath in the glory of history by becoming the first group of teenage footballers, from this part of the continent, to be crowned champions of Africa.
Victory over Mali in Niamey, Niger, will see the Amajimbos complete a fairytale campaign in the African Under-17 Cup where they have taken on the best that the West Africans have thrown at them, in hostile conditions that suit their opponents, and somehow found the heart and spirit to triumph.
They know the Malians, having drawn 2-2 against them in a group game, drew 2-2 against Cote d’Ivoire and beat Cameroon (3-1) and Nigeria (1-0), in the semi-final, and now they find themselves just 90 minutes away from becoming champions of Africa.
Whatever happens tomorrow, there is no denying this group of Amajimbos their place in South African football Hall of Fame as they have already become the first team from the Rainbow Nation to qualify for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Chile in October and November this year.
They could complete their campaign in Niger unbeaten, in five games against West African opposition, which would be a huge achievement, should they win the final tomorrow.
The Amajimbos’ success story has completely overshadowed the fact that our other neighbours to the north, Zambia, came within just a point of qualifying for the 2015 FIFA Under-17 World Cup finals after beating hosts Niger 2-1 before losing 1-3 to Nigeria and 0-1 to Guinea.
The Zambians finished their group campaign with three points, only a point behind Guinea, who pick-pocketed one of the four African tickets available in Niger to Chile, for the 2015 FIFA Under-17 World Cup finals.
While the South African Under-17 footballers are on the verge of becoming African champions, and are going to the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, and the Zambian Under-17 footballers came within one point of going to Chile, our Young Warriors were never even given a chance to express themselves against their colleagues on the continent.
The South Africans know that, in about three years, they will have a group of footballers, aged about 19 and 20, good enough to be eased into Bafana Bafana and the exposure that they have received, in taking on the best on the continent and beating them in the tough terrain of Niger, will be priceless when they make the transition from boys into men.
The Zambians know that, in about three years time, they will have a group of footballers, aged about 19 and 20, good enough to be eased into Chipolopolo and the exposure they have gained, in slugging it out with the best on the continent in Niger and coming within just one point of qualifying for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, will be priceless when they make the transition from boys into men.
You can see how the two nations that we call our biggest rivals, when it comes to football, are already securing their future — a tomorrow where their senior national teams will not only be able to qualify for the Nations Cup finals — as happened this year when they both played in Equatorial Guinea, but even good enough to try and win the tournament for the second time.
That’s what you get when you thrust people like Kalusha Bwalya into the hot seat of leading your national football, massive dividends that include a Nations Cup triumph, and ensuring the national team’s future will be secured by a steady stream of talented teenage footballers who keep being exposed to the tough terrain of such battles like the African Under-17 Cup finals.
That’s what you get when you put people like Danny Jordaan into the hot seat of leading your national football, huge dividends like the revival of a dormant creature like Bafana Bafana and ensuring that its future is guaranteed by a steady stream of talented teenage footballers who are not only being exposed to the tough environment of the African Under-17 Cup finals but have even shown they could be good enough to become champions.
Of course, our Under-17s never kicked a ball in the 2015 African Under-17 qualifiers, if you have time to do some little bit of research you will see that we are among the teams that are listed as having not entered a team for the tournament and you will understand how much our football has turned into a laughing stock when you note that the other countries which didn’t enter for the championships are Somalia, Djibouti, Sao Tome and Principe, Eritrea, Chad and Swaziland.
The same football leadership that deprived a generation of our Young Warriors a chance to complete their campaign for the 2013 African Under-17 Cup, by not providing them with the resources to go and fulfil the second leg of their qualifier against Congo (Brazzaville), is virtually the same leadership in charge of our national game which did not enter a team for the 2015 African Under-17 Cup.
Somehow, against that depressing background — where our Under-17s are not being given the chance to gain the exposure of playing against their compatriots on the continent — at a key stage of their development when such exposure is priceless in shaping them into footballers who can stand the heat when they make their transition from boys to men, our leaders still fool us with the false gospel that we will have a competitive Warriors in the future.
And, because we are either dull or we have been converted into a people who see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil, when it comes to the shortcomings of our football leaders, either because we have been bought to trade our qualities to ask questions, and demand answers, for our silence, or we have simply given up on everything to do with our football, we believe their dummy that, oh yes, the future of the Warriors is bright.
Come on guys, let’s open our eyes and, as much as it hurts that our rivals South Africa are doing something good, let’s try and copy their template because it’s the only way we can turn ourselves into a force again — investing the little that we have in the youth structures, supporting the Under-13s, Under-15s and Under-17s and giving them the exposure to play against others on the continent.
Whether we like it or not, the Amajimbos are on the verge of becoming champions of Africa and that’s what is called a nation that knows what it is doing about its football, and all that we do is hold meetings, as was the case in Harare yesterday where the ZIFA councillors met, come up with strategic plans that will never see the light of the day and be seduced by Jonathan Mashingaidze’s beautiful English in defence of nothing.
IT NEVER USED TO BE THIS BAD FOR US
While the Amajimbos stand on the verge of becoming African champions, football fans in Zimbabwe, whose Young Warriors were never given a chance to play in the 2015 African Under-17 Cup qualifiers by a ZIFA whose priorities have always been misplaced, will be forgiven to think that it was always this bad for us when it comes to these youth national teams.
But 20 years ago, our Young Warriors actually met the Amajimbos in the qualifiers for the ’95 African Under-17 Cup and we lost 2-4 on aggregate but the South Africans were not good enough to jump the next qualifying hurdle and, after falling 1-2 to Mozambique, joined us on the sidelines as the Mambas qualified for the finals.
Two years later, the Amajimbos lost in the first round of the qualifiers, hammered 1-4 by Angola, while our Young Warriors qualified for the ’97 African Under-17 Cup finals where we joined the Angolans, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana and Mali, representing the best seven Under-17 national football teams on the continent, plus the hosts Botswana.
The same Angolan team, which had looked irresistible as they thrashed the Amajimbos 4-1 on aggregate in the qualifiers, could only settle for a goalless draw against us when we met them in our group game at the finals in Botswana.
The next edition was in Guinea, in ’99, and once again our Young Warriors qualified for the finals of the African Under-17 Cup finals while the Amajimbos failed, having been eliminated in the qualifiers by Mozambique.
We maintained our place among the best seven Under-17 national football teams in Africa and even though we were eliminated in the first round of the group stages, Shingi Kawondera was named one of the best players of a tournament that featured the likes of a teenage Michael Essien playing for Ghana.
Back then, in those years, our football leaders knew that if we wanted to be successful in our junior teams, there was no way they would leave out someone like Zivanayi “ZIfa” Chiyangwa in the system of the Young Warriors, leave out someone like Weekly Mwale, someone like Cosmas “Tsano” Zulu and someone like Steve “The Dude” Kwashi.
It was about football, and not personalities, and we reaped rewards for our focus on the game and the likes of Shingi and Tinashe Nengomasha would later use that exposure to play a big part in helping the Warriors qualify for the Nations Cup finals after the turn of the millennium.
People talk in glowing terms about the Dream Team but a lot of them forget that this was a team that was born out of a Young Warriors’ side that went to Egypt for the 1991 All-Africa Games, at a time when Peter Ndlovu was only 18 years old, and all they needed was the technical touch that Reinhard Fabisch brought, and the addition of some experience here and there, to turn them into winners.
In the 2001 and 2003 African Under-17 Cup qualifiers, both the Young Warriors and the Amajimbos failed to qualify, and it was not until 10 years ago, at the 2005 edition of the tournament, that the South Africans made it for the first time.
In the 2007 qualifiers, the Amajimbos knocked us out and, once again, they qualified for the finals and while they failed in the race for the 2009 edition, after losing in the first round to Malawi, we qualified for the finals in Algeria and once again we were one of the best eight Under-17 national teams on the continent.
When you listen to our current ZIFA leaders speak, you hear them say that 2009 was one of the years when our football was on its knees but I have always argued that it’s all cheap talk from foolish administrators who have been exposed for their shortcomings because how do they explain that we were Cosafa Cup champions then and our Young Warriors qualified for the African Under-17 Cup finals in Algeria that year.
Let’s just compare it to now and we will see that we are even being asked to play preliminaries, in the 2015 Cosafa Cup after having plunged down the FIFA rankings, we lost that Cup to Zambia when the tournament was last played two years ago and our Young Warriors didn’t even kick a ball in the Africa Under-17 Cup qualifiers.
The South Africans realised recently that they needed some real football people to lead their game and they made the necessary changes and the results have been there for everyone to see — Bafana Bafana qualifying for their first Nations Cup finals, which they aren’t hosting, in seven years, the Under-20s qualifying for the African Youth Championships and the Amajimbos on the verge of being crowned champions of Africa.
All it needed was Danny Jordaan to be given his chance to lead a game that he not only knows but also cares passionately about and their fortunes have changed dramatically while we can only wonder as to when will our nightmare end and if we dare ask questions, angered by the fact that while South Africa as a nation are about to celebrate success while we can watch from the sidelines as if we don’t have talented teenage footballers, we are deemed anti-football.
THE PRE-SEASON SHOWDOWN THAT CARRIED ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD
Last Sunday morning, just hours before we all converged at Rufaro, wooed by months of inactivity when the domestic football scene had taken its annual break and carrying bodies that betrayed the feasting that we had indulged in during a period when Christmas and its long holiday had wooed us with its drinks and food, The Sunday Mail shadowy columnist, VaShagare, cried for Rodreck Mutuma.
“Rodreck Mutuma’s departure from Dynamos hurts”, he, or she, thundered.
“His arrival at CAPS United hurts even more. Don’t get swayed by the ‘we don’t care’ talk coming from the DeMbare faithful, among whom yours truly is a card-carrying member, Mutuma’s departure hurts real bad.
“It hurts because we all know what Roddy is worth. It hurts because we all know Roddy, if he had his way, would still be a DeMbare player to this day. It hurts because Roddy has chosen to set up base at DeMbare’s now noisy neighbours.
“It hurts because Roddy is a better striker than most, if not all strikers, at DeMbare at the moment.”
I found this to be quite a candid assessment by this blogger and, even though I didn’t feel his/her pain because I’m neither DeMbare nor Makepekepe, being an old-fashioned fan whose love for local football clubs was dissolved by the pain I felt in the demise of my three teams — Falcon Gold, Rio Tinto and Blackpool — I was charmed by his/her remarkable frankness.
That he or she could put his/her head on the block and trust his instincts, to say all this hours before a game where Roddy would either be a monumental failure or a shining prince basking in the comfort of the love of his new family, had the kind of courage that I usually pride myself in having and, for a change, it felt good to hear someone else stand by what he/she believed in.
Of course, I have been linked by a lot of people to be the guy behind this VaShagare character and the beauty of his transition from the pages of social media into the mainstream media is that it has given readers the chance to see that there is so much difference, in our writing styles and what we believe in, we could hardly be one person.
Mutuma is hardly a prolific striker but, then, who can say he is a prolific forward when the winner of the Golden Boot in Zimbabwe scores 13 goals and the one in South Africa, Bernard Parker, scores 10, including three penalties?
Mutuma has this arrogance about him, which helps him to impose himself on his opponents, and that is what you want in a forward, and he has a huge presence in that final third, which usually goes unnoticed, because we believe he is not technically good enough and we are ruthless to judge him only by the goals he scores.
When Wayne Rooney goes for six English Premiership games, 450 minutes, this year without a shot on target, we are quick to embrace it as just another of those dry runs which are normal in football but when the same thing happens to Mutuma, we are quick to dismiss him as a hopeless flop who should be trying his luck at basketball and not football.
But statistics don’t lie and Mutuma, more than any other forward in the country today, is a big-game player and his heart, when it comes to the big games, could only be matched by Murape Murape although, unlike Monya, the Prince would spice it all with goals.
He was the Golden Boot winner in his first season in the domestic Premiership and in the two Mbada Diamonds Cup finals that Dynamos won, 1-0 against Motor Action in 2011 and 2-0 against Monomotapa in 2012, it was Mutuma who scored all the goals in the finals.
Of course, even in the elimination of CAPS United, in that semi-final at Barbourfields in 2012, Mutuma scored one of the goals in that three-goal romp.
When Dynamos badly needed a goal for the 1-1 draw in their final league game against Hardbody at Ascot, which helped them beat Highlanders to the league championship by goal difference in 2012, it was Mutuma who was there to score it.
A lot of people say the Harare Derbies last year were very close contests and, after that drawn first one, there was Mutuma to score the winner for DeMbare and he also scored the winner in the 1-0 win over Highlanders at Barbourfields.
There is no guarantee that Mutuma will excel at CAPS United this season because he appears to thrive in the pressure-cooker atmosphere like the one we had on Sunday and that won’t be guaranteed at the Green Machine week-in-and-week-out when the real season gets underway.
He also has to deal with this weakness where he wants to be everything, the superhero at this club, who takes every free-kick, every penalty and wants everyone to pass the ball to him because that, inevitably, creates tension and it could not help him and his team.
What we can’t hide away from, though, is that he feels inspired by his new challenge while Kelvin Bulaji and Dominic Chungwa appeared overwhelmed by suddenly having to carry the weight of thousands of those souls who are now in their corner.
Of course, these are early days yet, and only a fool will say that Kelvin and Dominic will fail, judging them by one game, but the first impressions are usually important at these big clubs and Mutuma won that battle on Sunday.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
Gondai Mazhuwa — Dynamos Fan (SA)
“They failed to beat Dynamos for five years in a competitive match, they won after penalties and already Mutuma is labelled the best striker in Zimbabwe, a striker who failed dismally at a small club in South Africa, Bloemfontein Celtic, and was released from contract, a player regarded among the worst strikers ever to play across the Limpopo is now compared to Messi and Ronaldo just because he scored a penalty in a friendly match against his former paymasters.
“Why don’t we wait for the league to start and then start making all these noises when you collect 30 points from 10 matches, ndopika namuzaya Mark Harrison, Tsholotsho FC inokudashurai rakacheka nyika.”
Joseph Shoko — CAPS United Fan
“Mutuma haasati ambo loser Derby, Chungwa na Bulanji havasati vambo hwina Derby. Mbudzi yemurombo kuchema ichitevera bere.
“Chungwa dumped CAPS for ailing Dynamos, ku CAPS kobva kwaita huchi nemukaka, masponsor kuita kurwidzana kuisa mari uku DeMbare sponsorship was reduced by 30%.”
Let the football start. May the Lord bless the Amajimbos!
To God Be The Glory!
Come on Amajimbos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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