ZIMBABWE once again failed to break the jinx at the Africa Cup of Nations after they lost a match many people had tipped them to bag and eventually crashed out of the tournament with a game to spare.
Losing to Malawi was definitely a bitter pill to swallow as Zimbabwe gave away their lead to fall 1-2 at the at Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam last night.
Of course the rivalry between the two Southern African nations has been strong over the years and yesterday brace from Frank “Gabadinho” Mhango settled the derby and put paid to Zimbabwe’s chances of progressing from the group stage for the first time.
It was sad the Warriors, who started off their campaign with a brave performance against Senegal, who are the leading it on the continent, could bow out of the tournament this way.
Zimbabwe became the first team to officially exit the tournament. Zimbabwe were making their fifth appearance at the tournament. But it seems progressing from the group stages will always be a tall order.
The Warriors just have to wait longer before they could dream of playing in the knockout rounds at AFCON, where they get the chance to run shoulders against the aristocracy of African football.
Norman Mapeza yesterday became the fourth Zimbabwean coach to fail the test at the continent’s premier football competition following the defeats to Senegal (0-1) and Malawi (1-2).
Veteran gaffer Sunday Chidzambwa, who led the team to their maiden finals, had two unsuccessful attempts in 2004 and 2019.
Charles Mhlauri also tried his hand in 2006 in Egypt and came short, so did Callisto Pasuwa at the 2019 edition in Egypt, where Zimbabwe hogged the limelight for all the wrong reasons, off the pitch.
This time around there was tranquility in the camp. There was no off-field drama about money issues, which are usually a huge distraction.
Government had made sure the team had the best preparation possible after pouring in US$1 million.
The corporate world was also beginning to warm up to the team, with FBC Holdings yesterday unveiling a cool package that included US$1 000 bonuses for each player for every game they won.
The financial institution was also a bit ambitious by promising houses to players and members of the technical team should they win the AFCON tournament.
But following yesterday’s results, it now appears the top spot in Group B will be a battle between Sadio Mane’s Senegal and Naby Keita-led Guinea after the two West African giants played a goalless draw in an earlier kickoff.
The West Africans are setting the pace in the group with four points apiece ahead of the last round matches. The top two teams from the group will progress to the round of 16.
Malawi have three points and still have mathematical chances of finishing among the top two, should they upset Senegal in their last group game.
The Flames can still keep their fingers crossed because they have a chance to qualify from the group, for the first time, as one of the four best third-placed teams at the end of the group games.
But for Zimbabwe, it’s game over! Even if they are to beat Guinea by a scoring margin that is out of this world, they will still be condemned to finishing bottom of the table.
The best the Warriors could do is to end on three points. And, suppose Malawi lose to Senegal and Zimbabwe win against Guinea, the two Southern African nations will finish tied on three points.
According to Article 74 of the tournament rules, Zimbabwe fall out of the puzzle on head to head considerations against Malawi. The tournament rules read:
“74.1 In case of equality between two teams at the end of the group matches, the teams will be ranked according to the following criteria in the order listed below:
“74.1.1 The greatest number of points obtained in the match between the two teams concerned;
“74.1.2 The goal difference in all group matches;
“74.1.3 The greatest number of goals scored in all group matches;
“74.1.4 A drawing of lots conducted by the Organizing Committee.”