By Goodwill Zunidza
Having made sure of their participation at the Cameroon 2022 African Cup of Nations finals, Zimbabwe now seek to make it a double by reaching the World Cup finals for the first time.
The Warriors are in a tough group that pits them against neighbours South Africa, 2010 World Cup quarter-finalists Ghana and a tricky, if underrated Ethiopia.
The gulf state of Qatar will host the tournament late next year but qualifiers in the African zone are scheduled to begin in June.
Ghana has been described as the outright favourites in the group owing to their obvious pedigree but Zimbabwe remain confident of victory, inspired by the 2-1 defeat they inflicted on the Black Stars at the 2006 African Cup of Nations tournament in Egypt.
Moreover, Zdravko Logarusic, the Warriors mentor who has coached in Ghana before, believes the African giants can be slayed.
The top team like in every other group will clinch the ticket to Qatar and South Africa, smarting from their failure to qualify for next year’s Afcon finals, are hoping to make amends by qualifying for the World Cup for the fifth time in their history.
Currently Zimbabwe’s strength is debatable.
The Warriors finished as runners-up to Algeria in the race to Cameroon and squeezed through without a single home victory, and with only two wins from the entire campaign of six fuxtures.
Logarusic presided over the decisive 1-0 away victory against Botswana but it was his only win in charge of the team out of seven competitive engagements.
Furthermore, the domestic league has not been active for one and half years as it only commences in mid-May ruling out the prospects of any locally-based player being relied upon due to fitness concerns at the time the World Cup qualifiers will get in motion.
The country though now boasts an array of stars playing professional football in Europe who should continue to carry the day but their haphazard appearances for national duty has remained a point of concern.
Recently only half of the players the Croat coach had called to camp responded and the team ended up playing as a severely depleted unit.
While most of the absenteeism was blamed on strict Covid-19 regulations in their countries of residence, there were also allegations of unpatriotism on the part of some players taking advantage of the confusion regarding the Covid-19 situation to wilfully abstain from travelling.
Logarudic has already warned that some players whom he did not name would in future be excluded from the team for failing ‘to show love for their country’.
It’s a chilling threat that is feared might net some of the country’s top players who missed last weekend’s games against Botswana and Zambia with their specific reasons only known to the Warriors gaffer.
So far Logarusic’s own credentials continue to be a source of much quarrelling.
While he was finally absolved of blame for the team’s disastrous outing at the Chan finals in Cameroon in January as it was reluctantly agreed that he had been forced to travel with unfit players, the same forgiveness has not been accorded to the 54-year old for the inglorious 0-2 defeat to Zambia at home in the curtain-winding Afcon qualifier on Monday.
Logarusic’s alibi is that he fielded a generally untested pool of players after resting eight of those who had performed four days earlier in Francistown due to the need to give everyone in camp a run.
There still remains a sticking issue over the travel documents of the several uncapped players particularly in the United Kingdom as some among them are still to secure Zimbabwean passports.
At maximum capacity with all the targeted players available for selection Zimbabwe is seen having the wherewithal to dismiss the mighty challenge of Ghana and find their way to Qatar.
Outside the field of play, Zifa’s state of preparedness will also be called into question.
On more than one occasion the national football association has been found wanting on basic tasks such as organizing smooth travel for away fixtures, adequate training time in camp as well as meaningful friendly internationals.
It is to Zifa’s credit however that the previously perennially hanging problem of winning bonuses and appearance allowances appears for once to have become a thing of the past.
The need for corporate sponsorship remains acute as no team can pull off such success as World Cup qualification without enough resources in their kitty to oil their bid.
It is here that the government that has often been criticized for treating sport as a pastime rather than a profession has an obligation to step in and assume the costs.