IT has been a good week for us, as a country, after our Warriors created a little bit of history for themselves by qualifying for their third straight AFCON finals, for the first time, on Thursday night.
When the draw for the qualifiers was made, many analysts on the continent suggested that we had been placed in a tough group and our prospects, of coming out as one of the best two teams, were very slim.
They felt African champions Algeria would easily win the group and Zambia, desperate to make up for failing to reach the finals of the tournament in 2017 and 2019, would take the other place.
Many of them were convinced the chaos, which crippled our participation at the last Nations Cup finals, with the ZIFA bosses and the players fighting endless boardroom wars over bonuses and allowances, would still be weighing heavily on the Warriors, in these qualifiers.
They kept pointing out to our meltdown, in that 0-4 defeat at the hands of the Democratic Republic of Congo in our final group match in Egypt, as evidence we were set for a rough ride and it would take some time for us to compete at this level again.
There were fears, among these analysts, relations between our key players, and the ZIFA leaders, had broken down irretrievably, because of the challenges the Warriors faced in Cairo, we were unlikely to rise again, and compete at a good level.
However, after just five rounds of qualifiers, we have silenced all those analysts, by booking our place, at the next Nations Cup finals in Cameroon, with a game to spare.
Our victory over Botswana on Thursday night, coupled with Zambia’s 3-3 draw against Algeria in Lusaka on the same day, meant that neither Chipolopolo, nor the Zebras, can overtake us, when the final round of matches are competed in our group, on Monday.
With eight points, from our five matches, there is even a chance we can end up as the group winners, should we beat Zambia on Monday night, and Algeria were to lose against Botswana, on the same night.
But, right now, that’s not even a priority for us because, from the word go, our mission was to qualify for the next AFCON finals, not because we wanted to prove those critics wrong but simply because we know that we belong there.
There is no doubting that we are a solid football nation, which now and again, finds a way to produce players good enough to play in such top leagues like the English Premiership and the French Ligue 1, where Tino Kadewere has been doing well.
That we are the only Southern African nation which, so far, have booked their place at the next AFCON finals, speaks volumes about our pedigree, as a country with a rich human resource, in this game. We are not bragging about this because the statistics speak for themselves.
Four years ago, at the Nations Cup in Gabon, we were the only Southern African country, at that continental football showcase.
In this campaign, our boys went to Lusaka, and beat the Zambians, in their backyard, and they went to Francistown, and beat Botswana, in their backyard.
While there is now no question that people can’t speak about Southern African football, and not include us in that conversation, what we need to do is to really ensure that we fulfil our potential, which we have in abundance.
The victory in Botswana once again demonstrated, if we ever doubted this, that we have genuine depth, as a football nation, and that is why we were able to beat the Zebras, despite missing many of our key players.
Most of the countries in Africa, if they are deprived of the services of their best players, especially those who are playing in the major leagues in Europe, will struggle to compete.
But, even without Kadewere, Marshall Munetsi and Marvelous Nakamba, not to mention Khama Billiat, we produced a solid performance and came out with a priceless victory, in Botswana.
What is left is for us to find a way of converting our potential, into producing a team which can go to the AFCON finals, and challenge for honours.
It’s an area in which we haven’t done well, for various reasons, and it’s one that we have to look at, together as a nation, so that we can help our boys to go out there, and challenge any side they will confront.
The time has come now where we should not judge ourselves, merely by qualifying for the AFCON finals, but shaking the establishment there, by even reaching the semi-finals, or the final itself.
Madagascar showed the whole continent, the last Nations Cup finals, that if any team prepares itself well, they can fulfil their dreams, at this tournament.
We have a very good generation of players, led by our outstanding skipper Knowledge Musona, who have served their country with distinction, in the past decade.
They have shown, now and again, that they have the capacity to compete against the best, if they are given the tools to ensure they go toe-to-toe with the most powerful teams, on this continent.
It’s about time we help them, when they can still play at such a high level, and the next AFCON finals should see us coming together, as one united team, to ensure our boys become men.