UNITED States-based defender, Tendai Jirira, has revealed the horror he endured after spending hours stuck in Ethiopia, as he battled to fly home to play for the Warriors.
He failed to find a connecting flight, either to Zimbabwe or South Africa, for what would have been his Warriors debut.
Instead, he ended up flying back to his base in the United States, without getting home.
Jirira was expected to touch down in Harare, and join his Warriors teammates for the trip to Botswana, for the penultimate 2021 AFCON qualifier against the Zebras, which was played in Francistown.
The Warriors won that match 1-0, a result which helped them secure a third straight appearance, at the Nations Cup finals, after Zambia could only draw 3-3 against Algeria, in Lusaka, that same day.
Jirira was also expected to play some role in Zimbabwe’s last qualifier, against Zambia, at the National Sports Stadium four days later.
With coach Zdravko Logarusic saying he used the match against Chipolopolo, to see how some of his players, who have had little game time, could play in these high-profile matches, it’s certain Jirira would have featured in that match.
He would possibly have partnered lanky defender, Victor Kamhuka, in the heart of the Warriors defence, or play in the left side of defence, depending on where Loga would have preferred to use him.
However, the 29-year-old Jirira didn’t arrive in Harare, as expected, despite having flown more than 11 800kms, from his base in Detroit, to Addis Ababa, for the cause of his country. Instead, he found himself stranded in the Ethiopian capital, as he could not get a connecting flight to Harare, and was left with little option but to fly back to his base in the United States.
That meant Jirira covered more than 23 000 kms, to Ethiopia and then back again to his American base, for a Warriors’ debut that never was.
His American club, Detroit City, even urged their fans to rally behind Jirira, and the Warriors, in their AFCON qualifiers.
“Cheer on @10ndaii (Tendai Jirira) and @online_zifa in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers with today’s #WallpaperWednesday!’’ the club tweeted on Wednesday.
It attracted more than 250 likes.
What they didn’t know was that their player was stuck in Addis Ababa and would not travel to Zimbabwe, to represent his motherland, in the battles for a place in Cameroon, next year.
Jirira was desperate to finally join the Warriors after travel restrictions meant he could not travel home for the back-to-back AFCON qualifiers against Algeria.
The Warriors left the first game 1-3 in Algiers before they fought their way back, from 0-2 down, to force a 2-2 draw, in the reverse fixture at the National Sports Stadium.
That point proved to be priceless, the difference between the Warriors and Chipolopolo, after the Zambians, who had no point in their first two matches, rallied back strongly, after the appointment of Serbian coach, Miltun ‘’Micho’’ Sredojevic.
The Zambians took seven, out of the 12 points they played for, under Micho, in the 2021 AFCON qualifiers, while the Warriors picked just four points, within that final home stretch. Yesterday, Jirira told his story and revealed how he was heartbroken to travel so far and yet to finally get home to represent his country.
“I really wanted to be part of the team, since the technical team had invested their faith in me,’’ he told The Herald from his base in the United States.
“I was also hoping to finally make my debut, especially given that the last time out against Algeria, I couldn’t make the trip.
“I was really dying for the opportunity, to represent my country at this level of the game, and I am still licking the wounds after missing out.
“I was really determined to come but I could only make it to Ethiopia, after which I failed to get any connecting flights to Zimbabwe, Botswana or South Africa.”
Jirira’s absence prompted Loga to call SuperSport United left-back, Onismor Bhasera, as an urgent replacement.
The 35-year-old Bhasera, who had last played for his country in 2017, ended up paying for his flight from Johannesburg to Francistown to play for the Warriors.
“That’s true, (I booked my own flight and paid for it), initially I was the late inclusion in the team like you’ve heard,” Bhasera told KickOff.com.
“I was supposed to meet them (the Warriors) on their way to Botswana at OR Tambo (in Johannesburg) but when I got there, (there) were some issues and I could see if I continued standing there, exchanging calls, I would end up missing the flight.
“I thought whatever the differences are, I will sort it out with the federation there so let me just pay my own ticket, otherwise, I might miss the game, which was the next day.
“There wasn’t really time for quarrelling, duty called, I needed to be there to represent my country so I had to do that, I paid my own ticket, then flew.”
Bhasera said this was “not the first time” he had paid for his trip, to play for the Warriors and, in future, if there were similar challenges, he would do it “over and over again,” as he knew he would be reimbursed at a later stage.
For Jirira, despite the missed opportunity, and the challenges he faced in Addis Ababa, the relief came from knowing his teammates had fought for their country with pride and distinction.
“I would like to salute the Warriors for the splendid job they did in securing qualification at the AFCON finals,’’ he said.
“I am more than happy for that and it is my hope that I will be able to come and help my country in some other assignments before the Afcon finals next year.
“I am a proud Zimbabwean and I would really have wanted to play my small role but, all the same, the most important thing is that Zimbabwe managed to qualify for the AFCON finals.
“While I am disappointed that I failed to pitch up I am very happy and proud that the team managed to qualify. I hope that in the future, the travel restrictions would have eased and I would be able to make it if called to play for the Warriors.”