Sports

Dead rubber, what a sick joke, what an insult

REUNION TIME. . . Zambia coach, Micho (right), took time to meet his former Al Hilal stars, Mohamed Ahmeda Bashir (left) and Edward Sadomba (middle), who starred for him when he was in charge of the Sudanese giants, when the Serbian gaffer was in Harare this week for the AFCON qualifier against Zimbabwe

Sharuko On Good Friday

IT was a horrific tragedy and it brought us together, as people of the south, to grieve for the beautiful football flowers we lost in that plane crash.

Inside the wreckage of that shattered military plane, just off the coast of Gabon, their lifeless bodies all assumed a different identity.

In their death, stuck in those depths in the belly of the Atlantic, they simply became the United Nations’ football team.

The one everyone was grieving for, including those who had never considered football, as their favourite sport.

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Even the Senegalese, the very opponents they were meant to battle against on that ill-fated trip, adopted them, as their own, in that moment of collective global grief.

We felt the pain even more, because they were our neighbours, the boys next door, from across the river, from just across the majestic Victoria Falls, named in honour of a British Queen.

It’s easy to understand why we cried, as much as the Zambians, because Derby Mankinka was one of our own, his irresistible cameo dance here, starting our love affair.

Like a shooting star, he exploded when he came to play in our playground, the beauty of his range of skills casting a light on our football, making all of us love him.

Then, it all faded away, when his dance was over, before death dealt him a cruel blow.

This was genius, a true exhibition of greatness in this game, a colour advertisement of the heights immortals can soar, a beautiful rendition of the melody which can come out, whenever they roar.

Then, there was Kelvin Mutale, the one we kept comparing with our Agent Sawu, in a battle of goal-scoring young guns, whose future looked very bright.

He had scored a hat-trick, in his last game for his country, on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, on April 25, ’93 and, two days later, on the edges of the Atlantic Ocean, he met his death.

Kelvin was just 23.

And, of course, there was Alex, whose surname Chola had been adopted, in our football, to define greatness, and was attached to those, who were quite good.

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Because we related to them, we cried for them, mourning their tragic loss, the power of our humanity helping us to conquer the demons of our rivalry, when it comes to football. A rivalry, which was started, in earnest by Jan Simulambo’s tears, at Rufaro, in 1980.

He was crying for Mother Zambia, disputing the 89th minute winner which Shacky Tauro had scored for us, in the final of that Four-Nations Independence Cup, to settle a feisty affair.

Simulambo’s post-match claims that “even a pilot, in a jumbo jet, could have seen that Shacky Tauro was offside,’’ gave this derby its signature quote and, in just 15 words, laid the foundation for our intense rivalry.

Looking back, as we joined our neighbours in mourning in April, 1993, we didn’t wonder why, even at the beginning of our rivalry, a plane had been sucked into this conversation.

But, amid all those tears, we didn’t lose focus about who we were, the Warriors, and neither did they lose focus about who they were, Chipolopolo.

And, Kalusha rallied them to conquer their fears, and keep flying and also fighting, for the sake of those they had lost, to try and heal the wounds of their broken country, struggling with the horror of its darkest hour.

On July 25, ’93, he brought them here, for one last chance to try and take them to the ’94 Nations Cup, and, for about 80 minutes, their dream appeared to be fading away.

Then, Kalusha struck, his header beating Bruce Grobbelaar and, in the process, ending our dreams of reaching the AFCON finals.

That goal hit us very hard, in a way football had never hurt us before, and has never hurt us since, and the wounds it inflicted on our souls, haven’t healed to this day.

More than the loss of a chance of playing at the AFCON finals, for the first time, the disappointment was amplified, by the identity of those who had inflicted this pain.

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Our biggest rivals, the ones we never like to lose to and, even in the midst of a tragedy, as was the case then, or a pandemic, as is the case now, it’s something that really hurts.

 

DEAD RUBBER, WHAT A SICK JOKE, WHAT AN INSULT 

In Zambia, recruits into the Chipolopolo ranks are, among other things, reminded of Gabon, as part of an initiation process, for them to understand the value of playing for this team.

In terms of tragedy and triumph, Gabon represents both, their darkest hour in ‘93, their finest hour in 2012.

They are also encouraged to read a timeless article, “Triumph On Sacred Ground,’’ written by award-winning American journalist, Leigh Montville, for Sports Illustrated, in October ’93, to help them appreciate the past for them to understand the future.

“You start with the graves, you have to start with the graves,’’ Montville wrote in his masterpiece. ‘’You stand in the middle of the arid African landscape, on a warm afternoon, surrounded by the 30 mounds of earth, not knowing where to look first.

“The dust blows into your face, the sun beats onto your head, you try to catalogue all of the feelings, try to capture the sight and the emotions in words, but how can you do that?

“This was the goal tender,’ a security guard says. ‘Efford Chabala. Oh, Chabala, he was very good, very, very good.’

“You stare at the black-and-white picture of Chabala, attached to a thin wooden stick behind one of the mounds, a head shot, you read the printing underneath the picture, his name and the fact that he lived from 1960 to 1993.

“And played for the Mufulira Wanderers, and for Zambia.

“You look at all the pictures, one picture behind each of the 30 mounds, many of the black faces are so young, faces that could be from a yearbook, from a college football programme on a Saturday afternoon, 18 soccer players.

“And, then, the coaches and the trainer, and then the officials of the Zambia national team and then the crew of the de Havilland DHC-5 Buffalo airplane that dropped into the Atlantic Ocean, just before midnight on April 27, off the coast of the tiny African country of Gabon.

“How can this be? All these people?

“You are quietly overwhelmed, how do you describe all that has happened, the death of this one team, followed by the rise of a new, replacement team that has done so much more, than anyone expected, that has brought pride and hope to an impoverished country.’’

Thinking about it now, it’s an article I probably should have forwarded to our coach, Zdravko Logarusic, on his return from his triumphant adventure in Botswana, last weekend, which has seemingly made him grow some wings.

At least, for him to get a bit of understanding of what football means to the Zambians which then, in a way, would help him appreciate the rivalry, which exists, between them, and us, when it comes to this game.

Because, to understand Zambia’s rise, from the ashes of that disaster, which Montville brilliantly captures, in his vintage article, is also to appreciate the pain they inflicted on us, along the way, and the intensity of the rivalry, which exists, between us.

Such a history lesson would possibly have made him understand why, even under the dark cloud of that tragedy, we didn’t ask CAF to forfeit our final group match, against the Zambians, to enable them to go to the ’94 AFCON finals.

Such a move would have earned us global praise, for being great ambassadors of humanity, who had used the power of football, to help our neighbours, with their healing process.

But, we didn’t do that and Loga would have picked huge lessons, from why we didn’t reach out for charity, but rather our swords of battle, back then in 1993.

He would possibly also have learnt that more than 55 000 local fans poured into the National Sports Stadium that day, not to spend the afternoon praying, with their Zambian colleagues.

Instead, he would have noted that they all came to demand a victory, which would have carried their Warriors into virgin territory of the Nations Cup finals.

I’m pretty sure he would have known the Zambians were not the kind of team against which a Warriors’ coach can afford the luxury of sending in a makeshift side, especially in an AFCON qualifier.

And, at the National Sports Stadium, of all places.

As a Croat, Loga knows Zvonimir Boban, the former AC Milan midfield star, who won four Italian league titles, and a Champions League medal, with the Rossoneri.

Boban was also part of the Croatian national side which finished third at the 1998 World Cup in France.

But, he is also known for something else, his decision to kick a Yugoslav policeman, in 1990, amid the raging wave of a quest for freedom, in Croatia.

Some historians have even claimed that the infamous kick on the policeman was what ultimately triggered the Croatian War of Independence.

It came amid rioting, between fans of Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb, and Red Star Belgrade of the then Yugoslavia, on May 13, 1990, in scenes so ugly they are considered one of the worst exhibitions of hooliganism, seen in European football.  

The match, itself, had to be abandoned after just 10 minutes, after a pitch invasion.

And, when Boban, the Dinamo captain spotted a policeman trying to prevent Croatian hooligans from attacking their Red Star counterparts, he sprinted towards him before launching a flying kick into the officer.

“I swore at one of the police officers, he hit me and that’s how the brawl started. As you can imagine it was very difficult but I think I would do the same again,’’ Boban, who was later banned for six months, said in the documentary, “A Kick For Independence — More Than A Game.’’

For more than an hour, after this, the fighting raged on and, when the chaos eventually ended, the stadium had been set on fire.

Of course, our football rivalry against the Zambians is not based on the politics, which poisoned that game between Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade, but it’s an intense rivalry all the same.

That’s why the Mayor of Lusaka, Miles Sampa, and his team were in Harare, to watch the game because, in their real world, and not the reality world where we are being dragged into by Loga, there is no dead rubber in the Battle of the Zambezi.

MAYBE, SOME GOOD INTENTIONS BUT, CERTAINLY, THE WRONG OPPONENTS  

Loga’s decision, to shield some of his first-team regulars like Teenage Hadebe and Jimmy Dzingai, from the collateral damage which a second yellow card could inflict, with them being suspended from the opening Nations Cup finals match, appeared packaged with good intentions.

But, unfortunately, he chose the wrong opponents to field his makeshift team against because, when it comes to this game, Chipolopolo, just like Bafana Bafana, represent our biggest rivals.

Yes, it’s easy to understand his thought process, trying to shield his key men from exposure, and the dire consequences which that could have brought; including suspension from the opening game of the AFCON finals, should they pick another yellow card.

So, one can understand why Knowledge Musona, who was carrying a yellow card and also had taken a knock, couldn’t be risked and why Teenage Hadebe and Jimmy Dzingai, the duo with yellow cards, could also not be risked.

But, to send probably the weakest of our team, against our biggest rivals, was clearly not only a gamble with our emotions but also an insult to the history of our fierce rivalry.

To suggest that a player like Thabani Kamusoko couldn’t be risked, who plays in a position where the likes of Marshall Munetsi and Marvelous Nakamba are first-choice options, couldn’t be risked in this match, because he was carrying a yellow card, is an attack on our intelligence.

To give an impression that someone like Perfect Chikwende couldn’t be thrown into this game, because his goal and performance against Botswana had provided our coach with enough evidence of his quality, couldn’t be thrown into this game, defies logic.

If the thrust was not to risk players, why then did Loga throw in Alec Mudimu, who was also carrying a yellow card, to play the full match, against Zambia?

Unless, the message is that Mudimu doesn’t feature in the plans of our coach and, even if he was to pick another yellow card, it wouldn’t still disrupt how we will line up, in terms of our centre back pairing, in the first game in Cameroon?

Fair and fine, but the challenge with such kind of planning is that it would make sense, if we were going to play that match in Cameroon, next week and not in 10 months’ time because, in football, a lot can happen.

A player, who could have become the preference of a coach, can get injured, or can even lose form, and then suddenly the same coach finds himself having to scramble for cover and, you turn to Mudimu, only to find you sacrificed him in that match against Zambia.

Yes, he made a mistake for that first goal, which the Zambians scored, but he was outstanding, in Lusaka, when we beat Chipolopolo, in the one victory which ultimately defined our success, in this AFCON campaign.

If the thrust was not to risk the players, why did Loga throw in Kuda Mahachi, for the final 14 minutes of that match, when the midfielder was also carrying a yellow card?

Unless, of course, the message from him is that Kuda is someone he can do without, even if he is suspended, for that first game in Cameroon?

The real disappointment was the performance of the majority of those players, whom Loga fielded in his makeshift first team, on Monday night, something which the coach has conceded.

But, he can’t hide behind the foolish excuse that he wanted to see how they can play, in a competitive game, because the performance of many of them showed they didn’t deserve to be in the squad, from the word go.

He is the coach, and he is the one who picked them, using whatever criteria, and they exposed his judgment, with lifeless performances, which were clearly a mockery of the pedigree of what should constitute Warriors.

If someone had chosen these players for Loga, then we can understand his argument but he was the one who settled for them,and banked on them.

And, in that nightmarish show on Monday night, they also went a long way to expose his judgment on what constitutes quality.

It’s something as worrying, for the long term, as trying to make a mockery of the fierce rivalry that exists between us and the Zambians.

 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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Khamaldinhoooooooooooooooooo!

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Email — robsharuko@gmail.com; robson.sharuko@zimpapers.co.zw

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HERALD