Hope, excitement and expectation

HARARE - One Wednesday night, exactly six years ago, always reminds me of the fantastic potential we have as a nation to produce red-hot football talent in great numbers.

The local league was off-season, but Zimbabwe’s Under-23 team hosted Cameroon midweek in a 2008 Olympic Games qualifier at Rufaro Stadium, a match which generated tremendous interest from the public, not only because they had been starved of good quality football during the long off-season, but most of that Young Warriors group were already household names, and the name of the opposition, Cameroon, made for an evening well spent.

But, somehow, Zifa had not anticipated that amount of interest from fans, and thankfully, no lives were lost in the chaotic scenes caused by that terrible oversight from the association.

Just a few entry points were opened by Zifa, and that just under an hour before kick-off. With more people inside the ground than outside and kick-off fast approaching, impatient fans in the long and winding queues started pushing and shoving to gain entry. A sizable number of people were hurt from the crowd commotion and others from bites after police set vicious dogs on them.

The end-to-end stuff on the field kind of atoned for that nasty experience, with Peter Mubaiwa grabbing a late equaliser to earn the hosts a 1-1 draw.

That Young Warriors team gave hope for the future with an absolutely magnificent show against a fancied opponent which they did not allow to dictate the pace of the game.

You always feel privileged to watch a player in his pomp as a football fan, and Ali Sadiki, on that night, was particularly a class apart and simply unplayable.

Playing wide on the left, Sadiki tore the Cameroonian defence into threads with his electrifying pace, sublime skill and a too direct manner of taking on defenders which perhaps in later stages started to invite crude challenges from defenders and caused the career-threatening injuries that were to deprive us of the top-class player he was destined to be.

On that night at Rufaro, Sadiki would coolly control the ball, invite Cameroonian defenders to come get it, almost teasing them, and just when a challenge was about to be made, take the ball away from them with some audacious footwork, as if they were not there, before wheeling away at pace into the gap.

And he would do it again. And again. The whole evening. 

But while Sadiki was poetry in motion that night, fans and journalists alike left the stadium agreeing that our most outstanding player on view had not been Sadiki, but, in fact, a defender from Masvingo called Costa Nhamoinesu.

And on a night when a player of Sadiki’s attacking qualities had been at the peak of his powers, on a night he did everything except scoring a winning goal his alien-like performance deserved, to acknowledge a defender as the best on the night speak volumes of the quality of the player.

While Sadiki was splendid on the night, Nhamoinesu was colossal and unmovable at the back, probably the reason Zimbabwe didn’t lose the match.

Nhamoinesu just did not do anything wrong the whole night.

He matched the Cameroonian forwards for pace, timed his challenges superbly, emerged from the tackles with the ball and distributed marvellously all evening for Sadiki and company to launch raids with.

And when you hear that the same player has won the league title in a fairly decent European league like the Czech Republic, with a recognised name on the European club circuit like Sparta Prague, then as a nation you know you have a top-notch player at your disposal.

Nhamoinesu has surprisingly made erratic appearances under different Zimbabwe coaches, but it’s quite refreshing to know that current coach Ian Gorowa sees him as being a key player in the quest to qualify for next year’s African Nations Cup finals in Morocco.

As for Sadiki, those injuries, and a seemingly bad move to the South African second-tier league, affected his career fortunes.

But all hope is not lost, thankfully. He plays for a good local club, FC Platinum, and national coach Gorowa seems to be fond of him and very much a part of the 2015 Afcon plans if indications from the Chan tournament are anything to go by.

What of the rest of the team which played against Cameroon that night in 2007? Washington Arubi is still in the mix, and so is Kingstone Nkhatha. The doors are not totally shut either for Onismor Bhasera, while Zhaimu Jambo can still knock on the coach’s door when he comes out of his long injury lay-off.

The Mubaiwa twins, William Mapfumo, Godfrey Moyo, Obadiah Tarumbwa and Evans Gwekwerere were the other players who featured for the Young Warriors on that night and while most are unlikely to add to their international caps or ever play for the Warriors, Zimbabwe can safely say this generation has not been entirely lost.

And blend that with the present generation of Musona, Billiat, Mahachi, Ndoro, Jaure, Ncube, Zvirekwi, Chigova, then you have a squad not only capable of qualifying for Morocco next year, but also leave a mark on the tournament.

Feedback: sports@dailynews.co.zw.

Comments (1)

great days and greater players

felix kuyaya - 9 May 2014

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