Bothwell Mahlengwe Correspondent
MORE than a decade ago, when I was a student at a Bulawayo college, we used to have this chief invigilator who was like a permanent feature to the NUST examinations. He would come bald-headed in his brown suit, matching cross belts, black shoes and big spectacles.
To many of us, he was the symbol of examination. Surprisingly, he would remain anonymous until the last day of the examinations when, with a booming voice in a Ndebele tone, he would say these words, “If this is your last song, sing it well, for you might not sing another.”
Almost everyone would laugh but quite a number would definitely not sing another song. I had almost forgotten about this likeable and respectable old man until recent events in our football reminded me of his wisdom-filled words. Our football is in doldrums and, recently, we were excluded from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. What remains for our beloved Warriors is the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
There is a generation that might be kissing international football goodbye in two or so years. And to them the 2017 AFCON is their last chance to mix and mingle with the who is who of African football. If we fail to qualify now their age won’t allow them to feature in any future Warriors assignments. More so, with our exclusion from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, coupled with hoards of youngsters knocking for a chance to don the Warriors’ jersey.
This could be their last dance with our beloved Warriors. The group includes the likes of Washington Arubi, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Milton Ncube, Eric Chipeta, Costa Nhamoinesu, Arnold Chivheya, Willard Katsande, Danny Phiri, Cuthbert Malajila, Raphael Manuvire, Tendai Samanje and Nyasha Mushekwi.
These guys are now on the wrong side of 20 and by the time the Warriors feature in the next AFCON qualifiers and World Cup qualifiers, they would be around 30 years of age. Such an age, though good for experience and maturity, is not ideal for a sport where agility and pace are key.
This group needs no outside motivation for them to fight tooth and claw for 2017 AFCON qualification. This is their last chance for them to complete an essential part of their football legacy and history. For this group, the stakes are higher than ever. They just have to qualify for the 2017 AFCON.
Let’s be honest, the 2017 AFCON qualifiers have been very generous to us. The group we are in is one of the easiest we have been in since Independence. Though they are no more small teams in football judging by our loss at the hands of little Tanzania in the 2015 AFCON qualifiers, Malawi and Swaziland are just but teams we should beat on any day.
To our credit, we beat Malawi in their background during the first round of games for these qualifiers and Swaziland did us a favour by shocking the Group L favourites, Guinea, away. That has made our job clearly and cleanly cut out for us.
We have to beat Guinea at home and make sure that by the end of day tomorrow we are six points ahead of them. No other result is acceptable especially for the “last time dancers”. They need it more than anyone else. That alone is self motivating for them.
We might want to say that the conditions are not the ideal ones, especially with the ever bungling ZIFA in charge, but the stakes are too high for the Katsande-led group to allow anything no matter how huge to rob them of this great chance to write the best and lasting conclusion to their soccer careers; I played at the 2017 AFCON.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance not any normal player would allow to pass without a genuine fight, especially for one called a Warrior. There is so much at stake, which is more than just financial rewards and a glittering career at club level. This is a chance for them to say, “I served my beloved Zimbabwe well”.
There are so many great soccer legends whose exploits are still on the old generation’s mouths and they feature regularly in the yesteryear stars column but their illustrious careers are missing a dance at the Africa’s largest soccer showpiece.
Names that feature there are the legendary George Shaya, Moses Chunga, Madinda Ndlovu, Rahman Gumbo, Sunday Chidzambwa and many more. Then there is a group who were part of the popular Dream Team that was coached by the overrated Reinhard Fabisch.
Besides being immensely talented, many from this group have participation at AFCON missing in their otherwise glittering CVs. The Dream Team is arguably the team with most talented players to have been assembled in Independent Zimbabwe but they failed at the quest to qualify for any major tournament and I lay the blame squarely on the then coach of the day.
This assertion is very debatable but that’s my take. Now, we have this group led by Captain Willard Katsande, who has a very good chance to complete their CVs with a dance at the 2017 AFCON tournament in Gabon.
Will they allow anything to ruin that for them? If it were me, I wouldn’t. I would shed sweat and blood to make sure my name is among the who’s who in African football in Gabon come January 2017. To their advantage, they have a contingent of capable youngsters to assist them in their quest.
Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiart, Ronald Chitiyo and Partson Jaure are youngsters capable of turning any team’s fortunes.
They have the talent and the zeal to excel in their careers and if given the necessary support and guidance, they can bury any team, especially in our own backyard. The coach is also someone I trust and believe in very much.
He has shown time and again that he is very capable even in the most difficult conditions. Good results seem to be his main motivation and that is what we need most at the moment especially in this environment we find ourselves in.
The recipe for success is there. No outside motivation for the “last time dancers” can beat qualifying for the 2017 AFCON in Gabon. I reiterate the words of the wise old NUST invigilator, “If this is your last song, sing it well, for you might not sing another.” The first step is to beat Guinea. Let’s meet at Rufaro Stadium tomorrow.
- Bothwell Mahlengwe is a banker and former Premiership footballer and can be contacted, for feedback, on the email — firstname.lastname@example.org