By Goodwill Zunidza, Harare
Zimbabwe senior national football team secured their ticket to the Cameroon 2022 Africa Cup of Nations showpiece on Thursday night in Francistown after a stormy performance that wiped out Botswana’s own interests to qualify.
A classic 14th-minute header from the appropriately-named Perfect Chikwende earned the visitors a 1-0 victory and their fifth appearance at the continental tournament with a match still to spare in the qualifiers.
The Warriors’ passage was made certain after rivals Zambia could only manage a home draw with an already-qualified Algeria, their 3-3 stalemate in Lusaka leaving Chipolopolo with a paltry four points that can no longer surpass Zimbabwe’s tally of eight.
Incidentally the two protagonists meet at the National Sports Stadium on Monday with the cross-Zambezi duel now of academic interest only as the destiny of the group has already been decided.
The centrepiece of debate among local football fanatics has instead shifted to what Zimbabwe intends to do with its spot at the grand finals.
It has remained a worrying point that the Warriors have still to proceed beyond the group stages of the tournament despite two successive showings at previous editions in 2017 (Gabon) and 2019 (Egypt), added to the watershed moments of 2004 (Tunisia) and 2006 (Egypt).
Much of the sentiment from fans holds that there might be scope this time around for a change of the fortunes.
Several ground-breaking statistics were recorded as the Warriors went about their winding journey of making it Cameroon.
Croat coach Zdravko Logarusic became on Thursday the first foreign coach to guide Zimbabwe to the African Cup of Nations finals, this feat occurring during his first ever win in charge of the team on his sixth outing.
Two senior national team debutants, Chikwende and, before him, Prince Dube, managed to score with less than 15 minutes on the pitch.
Coincidentally both strikers are based in Tanzania turning out for Simba Stars and Azam respectively.
Also encouraging is the depth in the national squad’s reserve given that they missed almost the entire first 11 in Francistown due to the travel havoc wrought by the global coronavirus restrictions.
It is of credit to the coach’s credit that he could grind a result even without team regulars like Khama Billiart, Marvelous Nakamba, Tendai Darikwa, Tino Kadewere, Divine Lunga, Jordan Zemura and Marshall Munetsi.
With not a single substitution having been made for the whole duration of the Zebras tie it meant the coach could also afford to keep on the bench Spain-based goalkeeper Martin Mapisa and Moldova export Alec Mudimu who already boasts Afcon experience.
This is not to mention that only half of the 38 players called into camp for the two games against Botswana and Zambia reported for duty.
It also hoped that the current Zifa administration led by Felton Kamambo has now settled down enough to avoid previous mistakes they committed in their first days in office in 2019 when they bungled the boys’ potential success in Egypt.