From Petros Kausiyo
in Khartoum, Sudan
AS the Warriors leave Sudan after failing to go beyond the African Nations Championships group stage, their caretaker coach Madinda Ndlovu has pointed to their surprise opening day defeat by newboys Niger as the difference between a possible quarterfinal place for them and an early exit from the tournament.
Madinda saw the Warriors dream of a history-making CHAN quarterfinals slot go up in smoke after his charges blew an early lead to fall 2-1 to South Africa in their final Group B match at the Al Hilal Stadium here on Sunday night.
On the same night, rank outsiders Niger chalked up their second win of the tournament with a 10 triumph over Ghana that secured them second place behind South Africa in the group.
Niger had stunned Zimbabwe 10 on the opening day of the Group B matches in Wad Medani.
But a 10 win over Ghana in their second game had powered the Warriors back into contention and with South Africa beating Niger 20 it left Group B wide open with any of the four teams, including the Black Stars who were bottom and pointless then, in with a chance of claiming any of the top two positions.
It also meant that the Warriors had reclaimed the destiny of their qualification fate, but Madinda’s men conspired to disappoint when it mattered most and crumbled against the weight of expectations as 10man South Africa handed them their second defeat which saw them slip from second into third place and book an early flight home.
The Warriors, who failed to better the record of the class of 2009 which also managed three points from as many group games, were scheduled to leave Khartoum at dawn via Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and arrive in Harare this afternoon.
Madinda said he had, on reflection, noted that his charges — who wasted a glut of chances against Niger — should have avoided defeat against the Mena, as the result also set the tone for their campaign.
That 10 loss also left the Warriors — a mixture of rookies and some seasoned players — with a lot to do against Ghana and South Africa and as it turned out the pressure became unbearable against a technical and tactically superior Amabinneplaas as the Rainbow Nation’s CHAN team is known.
It was embarrassing by all means for players from the cream of the continent’s 12th best league — the domestic Premiership — to lose to a South Africa side that could not afford to draw any of the top players from their top-fight and First Division.
“We lost two games and won one, but surprisingly beat one of the most highly rated teams in Africa. People here have even acknowledged that we gave it our best and I think we have laid a platform for a future national team . . . we were not a shame.
“One of our objectives was to build a platform for Zimbabwe to be recognised on the international football stage again and the comments from the Caf and Fifa people here have been encouraging.
“I also think that the tournament gave a good platform to the Under23 players we had here to prepare for their game against Botswana (AllAfrica Games qualifier) and I think they will do well for that team.
“The first game against Niger would have made a big difference if only we had put more thought to it than we did or if we had given ourselves more time to study Niger more than we did. As I go back I still feel I should have done more research on Niger than I did
“That is the game that really drew us back and apart from that the boys have shown a big character to understand the vision that we had here,’’ Madinda said.
But what next for you after the CHAN tournament?
“For me it is probably wait and see from what the mother body (Zifa), they had asked me to take charge of the CHAN and the next Afcon game but I still have a job at Mambas.
“If Zifa ask me to take charge of the Mali game it will be business as usual and we will have to assemble the best players that we have to get down to business early’’.
Despite insisting that he was working within a limited scope given his caretaker status, Madinda said it was imperative that the Warriors wasted no time in kick-starting their preparations for the big Battle of Bamako against the Malian Eagles at the end of March.
Madinda said there was very little time left before the Warriors leave for Bamako and the association needed to put in place structures that would ensure the senior team, with just two points from as many matches in their group, was adequately prepared.
Surprise packets Cape Verde and Liberia are the other teams bidding to qualify for the 2012 Nations Cup from the group.
“My only advice to Zifa is that by hook or crook we must line up one or two international friendlies before the Mali game, football is about rehearsals and we must have a game plan before we go to Bamako.
“Special attention must be given before that game and strategies must be made with whoever is going to take charge so that he can make contacts with the players and their club coaches to avoid calling players who might be injured or are not playing at all. We need the right information before camp begins.’’
The Black Mambas technical adviser also suggested that the Warriors could assemble in South Africa, where the majority of their foreign contingent is based.
“It would be ideal to camp in South Africa or meet at a neutral place where we can train and really concentrate on the Mali game. That would be ideal but I feel we are not doing much to give the AFCON competition the significance or the magnitude it deserves.
“You can see with this CHAN that we are not really serious, we had a thin technical department yet countries like South Africa had two or three guys looking after the kit and training equipment,’’ Madinda said.
Madinda was assisted by Gunners coach Darlington Dodo and veteran goalkeepers’ coach Richard Tswatswa on their tour of Sudan with Under23 mentor Friday Phiri having only assisted the squad during their threeweek camp in Harare.
Zifa, still struggling for funding, could also not provide the homebased Warriors with all the resources they needed and that they arrived in Sudan with an unbranded kit that seemed to have sewn in a rush by some backyard tailors showcased the tough financial times being faced by the association.
With very little coming from the corporate sector, Zifa have had to rely on individuals, especially their president Cuthbert Dube, to keep the Warriors, Young Warriors and Mighty Warriors going.
Dube also had to use personal resources to try and motivate the players for the Ghana game and the one against South Africa, pledging US$350 to every player but that cannot be sustainable in the longterm as Zifa would need the help of a corporate sponsors for the players’ upkeep.
Crucially, Dube’s 13member board would need to urgently convene and find firm strategies that will ensure the Warriors do not fail in Bamako if Zimbabwe is remain in the contention for a place at the Nations Cup to be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.