CECAFA burst Warriors COSAFA bubble

warriors_conquer_cosafaHARARE Zimbabwes senior soccer team last week crashed out of the Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) after a 1-4 defeat to Rwanda that burst the bubble of being crowned COSAFA Senior Challenge last month. (Pictured: Warriors after the C

After their success in the COSAFA tournament on home soil the Warriors were invited to play in this years edition of the CECAFA championships.

But the hugely expectant Zimbabwean soccer followers, whose egos and national pride had been tenderly massaged by the crowning of their favourite team as southern Africas undisputed football kings, had hardly stopped blowing their vuvuzelas in celebration of that famous 3-1 victory over old enemies Zambia when the boys world came crashing down in Kenya.

The heavy defeat to Rwanda, better known for their political turmoil characterised by the ugly ethnic clashes of the 90s than their prowess on the football pitch, has raised more questions than answers on the direction of Zimbabwean football.

While the success in the COSAFA tournament appeared to signal the beginning of a new era in the local game and a good platform to launch our preparations for the 2012 African Cup of Nations after the Warriors undignified exit from next years edition of the continental showdown in Angola as well as the 2010 World Cup finals just across the Limpopo, Zimbabwes propensity to self-destruct came back to haunt them once more.

The first mistake was to change the personnel for the east African safari. COSAFA, which gave the southern African champions the ticket to Kenya, was won on home turf by a team led by Zimbabwes most successful coach Sunday Chidzambwa.

To many observers it appeared logical that football authorities would simply allow Chidzambwa to take his boys to a more challenging level another regional tournament but this time on foreign soil.

But ZIFA thought otherwise and national Under-23 coach Norman Mapeza was thrown into the deep end with a bunch of young inexperienced players who did not even have time to assemble and hold a single training session before heading to the hostile jungles of east Africa.

That the boys managed to hold Eritrea before beating Somalia in their opening two games is huge testimony of former national team captain Mapezas abilities as a coach remember this is the man who guided little Monomotapa to the domestic Premiership title in 2008 giving them the chance to rub shoulders with Africas big boys in the 2009 Champions League.

But from the onset, Mapezas experimental side was an accident waiting to happen despite his shrewd organisational and motivational skills. Rwanda emphatically hammered this fact home, not once but twice.

They first beat the Warriors 1-0 when the Rwandese had already qualified for the quarterfinals, leaving Zimbabwe to sneak in through the back door as one of the best third-placed teams from the group stages.

But as fate would have it, Rwanda were the Warriors opponents once more and this time, with a place in the semi-finals at stake they were bound to be more ruthless handing the Warriors a 4-1 thumping.

The crashing defeat has ignited a huge debate about the way Zimbabwe plan for their national team. Instead of building on the COSAFA success block by block football authorities have destroyed the Warriors momentum which may see them missing the 2012 AFCON.

ZIFA chief executive Henrietta Rushwaya justifying the mother bodys decision to send rookies for the CECAFA tournament said focus should be on developing young players.

What we need is a consistent young team getting in camp and competing at high profile tournaments, said Rushwaya. It helps our players get exposure so that they dont suffer the shock of performing in the senior team against experienced opponents.

We need to focus on our Under-20 team and maintain a good youth policy as well as deal with national players whose performance we are able to monitor.

Well said, but this does not explain why a winning team made up of locally-based players most of whom are still developing was cast aside instead of being retained as the core of the Warriors.

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