Chipo Tsodzo relives Ebola hell

HARARE - If Zimbabwe's national football team was scheduled to travel to an Ebola-infested nation for a crucial qualifier, how many would raise up their hands for selection?

The Ebola virus that broke out in Zaire (present day Democratic Republic of Congo) and surrounding areas recorded a human affection count of 315. It killed 254 with a case fatality rate of 81% percent.

That was the predicament that faced the Warriors class of 1995 when they were pooled together with Zaire for the African Nations Cup qualifier.

June 1 was the date and 5-0 in favour of Zaire was the scoreline in Kinshasa as the Warriors succumbed to a Liombi Yves Essande hat-trick; a brace in the first half and one in the second. Zola Kiniambi and Luata scored the first and last goal of the match in front of a partisan 50 000 crowd.

Chipo Tsodzo, a former Zimbabwe Saints, Highlanders, Hwange, Masvingo United, Mwana Africa and Quelaton utility player was part of the Warriors squad that played in Zaire. He was later substituted in the second half, replaced by Joseph Dube.

“It was a difficult decision to throw your name in the hat for the Zaire trip but it even got tougher seeing a stadium packed to the rafters because what we were all worried about was that deadly disease,” Tsodzo tells the Daily News.

“The fact that we were afraid of Ebola made the game very tough for us and sadly we were massacred.”

It was a traumatic experience for everyone who travelled for the match. A number of regular team players turned down the offer to travel and with virtually no choice but to fulfil the fixture, Zifa ended up handpicking fringe players.

Some of the players who made the trip were Gift Lunga Snr, Kenneth Nagoli, Shepherd Muradzikwa, Isaac Riyano, Joe Mugabe, Asani Juma, Mercedes Sibanda, Matambanashe Sibanda and Rahman Gumbo.

A prolific goal scorer during his heyday that he earned the moniker Jack Roller, Tsodzo was the Zimbabwean league’s golden boot winner in 2001 while turning out for Masvingo United. He was also a Soccer Star of the Year finalist in 2002 and 2005 while playing for Highlanders.

Later in his career, his became a defensive stalwart, using his knowledge of being a striker to shut out the deadliest of the league’s forwards.

He made his Premiership debut in 1993 in Saints colours against the now defunct Harare side Black Aces. When all thought it was time for Jack Roller to quit football, he moved to Quelaton, aged 36, becoming the Premiership’s record oldest player.

“Jack Roller was a named derived through my prolific goal-scoring record. I started playing soccer for Zimbabwe Saints juniors before Gibson Homela took me to the senior team,” he says.

“I played alongside talented players like Muzondiwa Mugadza, Lloyd Jowa, Dumisani Dube, Howard Mago, Matambanashe Sibanda, Eddie Mukahanana, Nkosana Gumbo, Mlungisi Ndebele and Ronald Sibanda. Ronald had just arrived from Plumtree High School.”

Tsodzo 40 next month and currently coaches Bantu juniors. He had his fair share of mischief which he links to alcohol abuse. He however, has since stopped drinking alcohol.

“Alcohol can shorten your career, that’s all I can say,” he says.

He is married to Nobukhosi Moyo and the couple has got three children – Belinda, Tinashe and Emmanuel.

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