The nation has been here before; another Zebras’ Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers crash scene. The ‘investigators’ are already sifting through the rubble of the mangled wreck, as the national team’s AFCON dreams once again came to a crashing end. But who is to blame for the deadly crash, asks Staff Writer, MQONDISI DUBE
Zebras’ fans were left to wipe familiar tears as for the umpteenth time, the team failed to progress to the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
The Zebras’ Africa Cup of Nations flight taxiing was slow but not entirely catastrophic as the team put on a rearguard action to thwart Zimbabwe’s Warriors in Harare. The tie ended 0-0 to leave the nation enveloped in hope that the tide could turn.
The result came after a deflating exit at the hands of Malawi in the World Cup qualifiers. From Harare, the Zebras flew back home, for an immediate encounter with reigning African champions, Algeria. The National Stadium was nearly empty as Adel Amrouche’s charges recorded their first loss of the qualifiers; a 1-0 reversal.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic then took centre stage leading to a lengthy break from football with the Zebras only returning to face Zambia in back-to-back encounters last November. At the time, Algeria had established a commanding lead at the top and it had been clear the scrap was now for a second-place finish. Three neighbours, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe huffed and puffed in a bid to clinch the remaining slot in Group H. Zebras took the lead against Zambia, but let it slip in wet conditions to record a 2-1 loss in Lusaka. Back in Francistown, the national side breathed life into their campaign, beating Chipolopolo 1-0.
It raised hopes as a lifeless campaign sprung into life. But it was not for long as Zimbabwe ended the faint hopes of a second appearance at the AFCON finals with a 1-0 win at the Obed Itani Chilume Stadium last week Thursday. The blame at this stage was largely on the fitness levels of the players although the Zebras put on an improved shift in the second half. Most of the players have been inactive since last year March when football activities were suspended.
Before the Zimbabwe game, the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare dangled a P650,000 carrot, which proved out of reach for the Zebras.
Critics argued the money would have been better
But the Minister turned up at the 11th hour with the P650,000 incentive, but it proved too little, too late. During the Zimbabwe game, questions arose as to why one of the Zebras’ finest talent, Mogakolodi ‘Tsotso’ Ngele had not featured, with different reasons advanced.
The team immediately flew to Algiers for the last encounter in the qualifiers against Algeria, where Ngele was again relegated to the bench. While the team has talented, largely untried youngsters, there are few who can take the game by the scruff of the neck when the team is on the back foot. The reigning champions were all over the Zebras as Amrouche’s charges put up a shambolic defensive display.
It meant Amrouche finished the campaign with a dismissal record of one win, a draw and four losses. The team only scored twice in the six matches. Amrouche has reportedly argued there was a long plot to sabotage the team and the campaign.
There have been endless reported clashes against some members of the secretariat and lately, team manager, Harry Koata.
Whether Amrouche is wrong or right, is a debate for another day, what has become clear is that his prolonged stay did not bode well for the Zebras and his own sake. The only way which looks increasing likely is the highway. However, the departure of Amrouche might paper over certain cracks within the association and other role players might feel absolved.
There is a need for a much more holistic approach in the post-mortem to get to the root of the problem. It would be remiss for the authorities at Lekidi Centre to think kicking out Amrouche will solve issues overnight.
There is some problem which has stuck around like glue; age-old problems which remain unsolved. It has ceased to amaze when the Zebras enter an international date without a friendly match. Preparations are usually shambolic, but expectations of results have remained constant.