Chan draw gives Warriors great chance

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MY MONEY is on the Zimbabwe national soccer team, the Warriors, making it into the quarter finals of the 2014 African Nations Championships (Chan) in South Africa next January and February, given the very reasonable group Zimbabwe was placed in at the finals draw in Cairo, Egypt, on Wednesday.

Most, if not all reading this, know the group in which Zimbabwe is, but just in case, Zimbabwe is in Group B together with Burkina Faso, Morocco and Uganda.

It is certain the group, to be based in South Africa’s Mother City, Cape Town and not Polokwane as some people have said, is competitive, just like any other draw.

But it would be complete failure if the Warriors failed to navigate their way into the knock-out stages of the competition.

West Africans Burkina Faso and North Africans Morocco are among continental giants, but mainly in competitions like the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) and World Cup.

They do not perform well because they have a lot of players plying their trade in the big leagues of Europe, especially in France.

In other words, when it comes to players in domestic leagues Zimbabwe can surely hold their own in Group B and take either top spot or second spot in the group — the group winners and group runners-up progress to the quarter-finals of the tournament which will be held in three cities — Cape Town, which hosts two groups, A and B, Mangaung, Group C and Polokwane, Group D.

National coach Ian Gorowa, who attended the draw in Cairo, now has his work clearly cut out but they beauty is that he has enough time to prepare for the finals which take place from January 11 to February 1. It is, however, this aspect of preparation that sends a shiver through some spines – the fear being that Gorowa might not be afforded enough support in the run-up to the finals.

Support for Gorowa should come from various quarters, but in my opinion, there are four entities that could make or break Gorowa’s work — the Zimbabwe Football Association, Zifa, the Premier Soccer League (PSL), central government, specially the new Sport, Arts and Culture ministry and the corporate sector.

For Gorowa to have a useful appreciation of his opponents in Chan, it is absolutely necessary that he at least travels to each of the three countries in Group B and watches some of their key domestic matches, especially those involving clubs that contribute a big proportion of the players likely to feature in the Chan finals and is then able to come up with playing strategies specific to each of the three group opponents.

In addition, the Warriors also need to play as many friendly matches as is possible between now and January.

Both Gorowa’s “spying” missions and friendly matches need financing and this is where Zifa and the corporate world come in.

Someone must finance such expenses. In the past our national coaches and their teams have been hamstrung by lack of finances and went to compete least prepared and this should not be allowed this time around.

The PSL is also crucial to the preparations for the Chan finals in that administrators of this league need to allow Gorowa and the team some space in their crowded calendar to play international matches using players in the PSL so that Gorowa can experiment as much as possible and, in the process, build an almost telepathic understanding between players likely to be the mainstay of the team at the Chan finals.

It is appreciated there is need to finish the domestic season on time, including playing whatever knockout tournaments that exist, but Fifa recognised windows for international matches should be given to Gorowa and his squad for their Chan practice matches.

Some people might argue that given that Zimbabwe is out of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers and the 2015 Afcon qualifying matches have not yet started, the Fifa friendlies days must be left to the use of the domestic league.

This would indeed be unfortunate.

The PSL has in the past not been that and it is everyone’s hope that this time around there will be a little bit more co-operation between the PSL and the national team management, Zifa included.

A programme that accommodates the interests of all the different players needs to be drawn up and agreed to quickly.

The business of the national team playing against local select sides in practice matches, either because there are no finances to travel outside the country or because there is not enough time to go far for international friendly matches, should be a thing of the past please!

The new Sport ministry also has a role to play.

Zimbabwe has a lot of political friends all over the world and some of these countries rank pretty high in terms of their football.

Some of these countries’ national selects would give Zimbabwe a good run in an international friendly and the government should be persuaded to use its political connections to arrange practice matches for the national team ahead of the Chan finals.

Some of them have very good diplomatic relations as well as bilateral sports agreements that could be exploited to the advantage of the national team and boost our chances of winning the Chan title come South Africa next year.