A Warrior's prayer

HARARE - Those old enough to remember Zambian legend Kalusha Bwalya’s last-gasp header past Zimbabwe’s number one Bruce Grobbelaar at the National Sports Stadium 18 years ago — a goal that shattered what would have been our first appearance at the African Nations Cup finals — talk sorrowfully of an old wound of heartbreak.

With Zimbabwe holding out for a nil-all draw late into the second half — a result which would have secured the country’s first Afcon finals qualification — King Kalu struck a dagger into Zimbabwean hearts and grabbed the late sucker punch which floored one of the best-assembled teams in the history of Zimbabwean football.   

Kalusha has since singled out that game as the most memorable tie in his playing career.

Six years later, Zimbabwe was to be sent into mourning again when it was decided, cruelly as many of us thought at the time, that the 2000 African Nations Cup finals would now be staged by co-hosts Nigeria and Ghana, not in Zimbabwe as previously awarded by the Confederation of African Football.

These two incidents brins to memory the closest incidents Zimbabwe has come to qualify for their maiden Afcon, until the Warriors finally made it through in Tunisia in 2004.

There have been other disappointments, but Kalusha’s strike in 1993 and the Caf snub in 2000 can be viewed in the same light if our beloved Warriors fail to protect their 3-1 first leg lead in Luanda today and blow away a golden chance of going to South Africa next year.

Such a scenario is terrifying to imagine for a sport which has already gone through a lot and desperately need hope and redemption following a damaging match-fixing scandal and personality clashes that almost left the game teetering on the brink of collapse.

In the midst of all the madness that surrounds the sport, qualification is the only result which will unite Zimbabwean football and bring a smidgen of normalcy to the game.

I have no doubt that as they take to the field at November 11 Stadium in Luanda this afternoon for this massive game, the Warriors will be saying a little cute prayer, something along the lines of: “Dear God, please don’t let the ghost of Kalusha and Caf haunt us again.Amen!"

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