But, since the arrival of Zdravko Logarusic, the one who was unveiled as a gaffer who had coached in “most of the continents in Zimbabwe,’’ last year, there has been considerable interest, here, about this small European country.
Sharuko On Saturday
LOGARUSIC, it has such a beautiful rhythm to it, just like Grabowski, himself as much a colourful character as anyone you can come across, in football.
Just like Lewandowski, himself as deadly a football goal-scoring machine, as you will ever see.
His first name is Robert.
Just like Mandzukic, himself a model of professionalism, when it comes to this game, as you will ever find, enabling him to write success stories at heavyweight clubs like Juventus, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid.
His first name is Mario.
Just like Rakitic, the one whose skills took him to Barcelona, where he won the Treble — the Champions League, La Liga and the Copa del Rey— before retracing his footsteps to his beloved Sevilla.
His first name is Ivan.
Just like Prosinečki, the blonde-haired genius, who is part of an exclusive cast of players who played for both Barca and Real Madrid, so good he finished fifth, in the vote, for the Ballon d’Or, in 1991.
His first name is Robert.
Just like Bokšić, one of the stars of the Marseille side, which also featured legendary Ghanaian forward, Abedi Pele, who won the UEFA Champions League in 1993, and then went on to play for Juventus, Lazio and Charles Mabika’s Middlesbrough.
His first name is Allen.
Just like Perisic, a powerful forward who was one of the best players, at the 2018 World Cup, whose services have been courted by some of the best football clubs, on the continent, and now plays for Italian giants, Inter Milan.
His first name is Ivan.
Just like Modric, one of the finest midfielders of his generation, if not of all-time, who has four Champions League medals, in his trophy cabinet, and in a landmark campaign, in 2018, won the Best Fifa Men’s Player of the Year, the Ballon d’Or and the AIPS Athlete of the Year.
His first name is Luka.
Well, if we take out Grabowski and Lewandowski, from this list, we find ourselves with a group of people from a small, but proud east European nation, called Croatia.
It’s also the home country of famed physicist, astronomer, poet, philosopher, mathematician and theologian, Roger Joseph Boscovich, who lived between May 18, 1711, and February 13, 1787.
He is the one who produced a precursor of the atomic theory and, in 1753, he was credited with discovering the absence of atmosphere on the Moon.
Until January last year, it’s unlikely many people, in this country, really cared about what happened in Croatia, its heroes, past and present, its history, soaked in the blood, sweat and tears of its gallant sons, and its brutal fight for nationhood.
After all, until June 1991, when Croatia declared Independence, formally divorcing itself from Yugoslavia, it wasn’t a country that stood on its own feet.
But, since the arrival of Zdravko Logarusic, the one who was unveiled as a gaffer who had coached in ‘’most of the continents in Zimbabwe,’’ last year, there has been considerable interest, here, about this small European country.
We now know it’s a nation located at the crossroads of Central and South-Eastern Europe, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea and has only been playing international football, as an independent nation, for about three decades.
At the last World Cup, in Russia, they went all the way to the final, 20 years after they had finished third, at the ’98 World Cup finals, in France.
“On Wednesday night, a country with a population around the size of the East Midlands alone qualified for the World Cup final,’’ noted the inews.co.uk website, after Croatia defeated England, in the semi-finals in Russia.
“If England chose only from that player pool (in East Midlands), Gary Cahill would have been the only player on the pitch.
“So how is it that four million Croats could build a team good enough to make it to the World Cup final, beating Argentina (43 million), England (53 million) and hosts Russia (144 million) along the way?’’
SMALL NATION, BIG ACHIEVEMENTS, IT RUNS IN THEIR DNA IN CROATIA
Well, it’s because football has always played a significant role, in Croatia, after all, it was the game its people turned to, in a friendly match against the United States in 1990, amid the chaos of their fight for independence, to try and taste the spoils of freedom.
FIFA refused to recognise that match but, for the brave Croats, a line had been crossed and there would be no looking back, in their pursuit of statehood.
To try and understand them, as a people, one probably needs to go back to the story of tennis star, Goran Ivanisevic, especially his improbable triumph, in 2001, when he shocked favourite, Pat Rafter of Australia, in the final.
In July this year, God willing, the world will mark 20 years, since Ivanisevic’s Finest Hour and, two months later, he will celebrate his Golden Jubilee.
No athlete, probably, typified Croatia’s trials, and tribulations, in those troubled early years of their independence, than Ivanisevic, who finished as runner-up at Wimbledon, in 1992, 1994 and 1998.
But, by the time he won tennis’ greatest prize, in 2001, he needed a wild card, to compete at the tournament in 2001, after his world ranking had fallen to 125th.
“The mind can be a difficult place to bide time, full of broken thoughts, there are corners of it in players, where indecision lurks, doubt hangs out, conspiracy theories take hold,’’ wrote Johnny Wetterson, in The Irish Times, in July last year, in a masterpiece of an article about the gangly Croat.
“With Goran Ivanisevic, his demons and flaws almost became an alternative persona.
“His press conferences were capable of becoming one-sided monologues, conversations between Goran and himself, that is, if he turned up.
“If it rained, it was because God wanted to punish him, or against Tim Henman in 2001, lavishly reward him, when the clouds were literally gathering.
“By Monday evening, Ivanisevic would become the first wild card, the first Croatian player, and the lowest-ranked player, in history, to claim the Wimbledon title.’’
It appears to be part of their DNA, these Croats, to always battle to defy the odds, to succeed where many doubt them, to make a mockery of the odds, to silence their critics, who would have long written them off.
Some academics have even tried to take a detailed, scholarly look at what really makes these Croats always find a way to surprise the world, especially when it comes to sport.
Today, one of them, Loga, is basking in the glow of a landmark achievement, leading his first country, to the AFCON finals, after the Warriors booked their place in Cameroon, next January.
He has blazed a trail, as the first foreign coach to lead the Warriors to the AFCON finals, something which a host of other coaches from Europe, including Reinhard Fabisch, failed to do.
And, in these tough times brought about the Covid-19 pandemic, when he has struggled to get his best players, either for an international friendly in Malawi, or a key game against Botswana on Thursday night, Loga has done very well.
Yes, others can say that, no matter whom we field, we should be good enough to beat the Zebras, anywhere we meet them, but that is now derived in the fascination with fantasy, than a date with reality.
If these Zebras could beat the same Chipolopolo side which we saw stretch Algeria, to the limit, with a type of football that was as direct as it was explosive, then, surely, we shouldn’t be dismissing them, just as lightweights, ready for the slaughter.
After all, these are the same Zebras which, even though we had our full-strength side at the National Sports Stadium, found a way to squeeze the spaces, which the likes of Khama Billiat need to excel, and were full value for the point they earned, in that goalless draw.
What Loga did well, in Francistown on Thursday, was to ensure his defence would not give away any freebies, and his decision to start with Jimmy Dzingai, in central defence, was a masterstroke, in a game where he needed tough fighters, protecting his goalkeeper.
In the process he shamed all those voices, who have been suggesting the giant defender owed his place in the team to his links with Yadah Stars, as a reward to Prophet Walter Magaya, for his benevolence, to give the Warriors, a place to camp, at his complex in Waterfalls.
Many coaches, in Loga’s situation, would have been consumed by the nightmare he experienced, when his home-based Warriors, were transformed into a symbol of ridicule, amid the pounding they received at the CHAN finals, in Cameroon, just two months ago.
Yes, there was the alibi that he had players, who had not played football for about a year but, a number of teams, at that tournament, were also in the same predicament, and didn’t do as badly as the Warriors.
By the time his team’s humiliation in Cameroon came to an end, Loga didn’t even have a work permit, to enable him to quickly deal with the issues related to the AFCON qualifiers.
Many weaker souls would have been frustrated, by those challenges, and destroyed, by those issues, they wouldn’t have had the strong character, which he has shown, to keep his focus on the bigger picture.
It’s a strength that he has, which is admirable, and to really appreciate what he has done, without Khama, without Tino, without Marshall, without Darikwa, without Divine, without Knox and without Prince.
To understand Loga, and his mental strength, it’s also important to go back to where he came from, his roots in Croatia, this little nation with a strong heart, which has refused to let size determine its fate and, instead, confronted the world head on, when it comes to sport.
LET’S ENJOY IT WHILE IT LASTS, A SINGLE SWALLOW DOESN’T SIGNAL THE ARRIVAL OF SUMMER
Of course, to try and pretend right now, amid the sunshine cast by our qualification to the next AFCON finals, that Loga was a popular choice, for the job to coach the Warriors, will be an insult to the past, when we questioned the wisdom, to bring him here.
For me, the jury is still out there, I don’t think a lot of my reservations have changed, swayed by our qualification to the next AFCON finals.
Yes, he has charmed me, with his commitment to his job, which I doubted a lot, because of his nomadic past, which gave me the impression he was just another of those carpenters, who come here disguised as football coaches, to enjoy the sun and go home with the loot.
He has also charmed me with the way he has been setting up his team, since the second half of that home match against Algeria which, to be fair to him, had given him enough time to make a good judgment about the quality, or lack of quality, of some of his troops.
And, even more importantly, he is a jolly good fellow, and appears to blend very well with his boys, including singing their victory songs in the dressing room, as was the case on Thursday night.
I have seen many European coaches who look at their African players as a people of a lower level, who should be grateful they are in his company, rather than partners, in this search for glory.
But, I also still feel it’s too early, for me to dump all my reservations, simply because we have qualified for the Nations Cup finals, something which Sunday Chidzambwa did twice, including when he was not being paid his dues, and was virtually doing national service.
Qualification for the Nations Cup finals can no longer be deemed as a benchmark of achievement, for the Warriors, who will be making their fifth appearance at the tournament.
It’s something which Charles Mhlauri did, also with a game to spare, in the company of Jay Jay Okocha, and his Super Eagles, a magician, and a team, which my colleague, CNN Mabika, remembers very well, for all the wrong reasons, of course.
Something which Callisto Pasuwa did, again without being paid his dues, just five years after he had plunged into the tough world of being a head coach, once again demonstrating that we are well served, in terms of that area, in this country.
It’s something which, probably, Joey Antipas would also have done, if he had been allowed to complete his course, because with four points, from two games, including that priceless win over Zambia in Lusaka, he was on the right track, to take his team to Cameroon.
Beating the Zebras was a big win for Loga, for the Warriors and for all of us, as a country.
But, there is a danger we can run the risk of abusing this victory, against a team which isn’t one of the giants of African football, to start believing it proves our coach is the greatest gift the football gods ever gave us.
That will be suicidal because, in my book, Loga was brought specifically to improve us, at the AFCON finals, so that we don’t keep getting eliminated, in the first round, given that taking us there, is something which a number of others, have done in the past.
On win, from three AFCON games, should not blind us to the tough assignments, in terms of building our team to reach the level which we all want, which remains to be done.
Yes, we should congratulate Loga, and give him all the support, because it feels good but we should not start pretending that we now have found our Sir Alex Ferguson, our Pep Guardiola and our Jurgen Klopp.
In case we have short memories, Antipas had four points, the same as Loga, in this campaign, but was overlooked for this job.
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton, Daily Service and all the Chakariboys in the struggle.
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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