Author: Enock Muchinjo
Source: Zimbabwe Independent
Agency: Twenty Ten
Headline: Where is Zimbabwe on the world football map?
Location: Harare, Zimbabwe
Article Synopsis: Football in Zimbabwe remains a passion for many inside the troubled southern African country. But many years of underachievement mean the country’s name and football are not synonymous on the global stage.
Opening paragraph: To a die-hard Zimbabwean football fan, it’s a mystery that the country is still regarded as a nonentity in international football circles.
Keywords: Zimbabwean football
Text: Like in most African countries, football in Zimbabwe is the number one sport, supported with great passion and played throughout the country. But the sport’s development has been hampered by a series of internal squabbles in the administration, gross incompetence and meddling in the running of the sport by politicians. Countries like South Africa, whose first international match after sporting sanctions were lifted, was a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the Zimbabwe national team in 1992, have taken huge strides in the game and even won an African Nations Cup.
But where is Zimbabwe really on the world football map?
The Southern African country, with a population of about 12 million, has churned out some talented players like Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar and the highly talented Peter Ndlovu. Both Grobbelaar and Ndlovu were the only Zimbabweans to have played in the English Premier League before current national team captain Benjani Mwaruwari. The trio of Grobbelaar, Ndlovu and Mwaruwari hail from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, which prides itself in being the home of Zimbabwean soccer. Grobbelaar played for Zimbabwe Saints, the country’s oldest club before crossing the border to South Africa where he turned professional. Ndlovu burst onto the scene as a skinny, nimble-footed teenager for Highlanders, the football heartbeat of the city of Bulawayo.
After only two seasons, Zimbabweans had no doubt they had seen arguably the country’s greatest ever footballer in the skilful speed striker. Aged 19, Ndlovu realised his big dream when he was signed by former English premiership side Coventry City. In 1995 he became an instant hit at Highfield Road. He was the first player in 30 years to score a hat-trick against Liverpool at Anfield. The record was taken by Arsenal’s Andrey Arshavin, who scored all fours goals for the Londoners in a thrilling 4-4 draw with Liverpool.
Mwaruwari, on the other hand, progressed much later in his career. He grew up playing social soccer in the sprawling townships of Bulawayo, only starting to play seriously when he joined the University of Zimbabwe club (UZ) in Harare. UZ played in the second-tier Zimbabwean league, Division One. His first major breakthrough was when he signed for Jomo Cosmos in South Africa. He flourished under the guidance of respected talent scout Jomo Sono, the club’s owner and coach.
He was crowned the South African league’s Player of the Season in 2001 before Jomo secured a contract for him at Switzerland’s Grasshoppers. He later joined AJ Auxerre in France, from where he moved to Portsmouth on a club record transfer fee. That the three Zimbabwean players to play in the best league in the world came from Bulawayo is not a coincidence. The city’s flagship club, Highlanders, is the second most supported club in the country.
Bulawayo is the capital of the Matabeleland province, home to the Ndebele tribe. The Ndebele have long been an undermined people, with of the scars of atrocities committed by the current government in the early 1980s still fresh in the older folk’s minds. For that reason, Highlanders is in reality more than a club for the people of Matabeleland, just like Barcelona are in Catalonia. Highlanders is the national team of Matabeleland in many respects. They are bitter rivals with Dynamos from Harare.
Dynamos are the country’s best supported team, and the most successful. Harare is in the Mashonaland province, home of the dominant Shona tribe that has benefited immensely by getting the top posts in government. Matches between Highlanders and Dynamos always have tribal connotations. The hugely popular Dynamos claim to have seven million supporters of the country’s population of 12 million. DeMbare, known as such because they originate from the old Harare township of Mbare, held its own in the African Champions League in 1998.
Ten years later, in 2008, they made it into the semis. Generally, Zimbabwean clubs have done well in Africa. Monomotapa, a small but ambitious club from Harare, reached the mini-league stage of the Champions League in 2009. All this points to the fact that there is already talent in Zimbabwe and what needs to be done is to identify and nurture it to the required standards. It needed top South African side Kaizer Chiefs to confirm that Knowledge Musona is a star for the future. Virtually unknown while playing for Black Aces Academy in Harare, the 19-year-old Musona has proven to be a key player to Chiefs scoring crucial goals.
At the moment Zimbabwean football is not very appealing to the international market. Not many local players have made the breakthrough to the top leagues in Europe in recent years. Only Manchester City striker Benjani Mwaruwari is at a top team while former Kaizer Chiefs defender Onsimor Bhasera is still waiting for his status to be determined before making the switch to Portsmouth. Most Zimbabwean players who go to Europe end up in small leagues such as Poland, Cyprus and Belgium.
But of late, even breaking into these leagues has become difficult. Recently, one of the country’s leading goal-scorers, Cuthbert Malajila, failed trials at Belgian side Cercle Brugge. On the national team front, Zimbabwe, known as the Warriors, only qualified for their first African Cup of Nations in Tunisia some 24 years after its independence. The Warriors finished third in their group that included Cameroon, Algeria and Egypt.
Two years later Zimbabwe also managed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt and again finished third in their group. Since then the Warrior’s fortunes have changed for the worst as they fared dismally in the qualifiers for the 2008 AFCON tourney in Ghana. The decline continued as once again Zimbabwe failed to make it into the last qualifying round of the 2010 World Cup and AFCON in South Africa and Angola respectively. Brazilian coach Jose Georgini Valdinei, popularly known as Valinhos, lost his job after the disastrous campaign. The job was given to local man Sunday Chidzambwa, who led Zimbabwe to their first Nations Cup in 2004.
But the team still remain an eyesore. They are yards too slow for an international side, and their techniques are often in tatters. Chidzambwa’s tactics have been criticised as boring and defensive.
In October, Zimbabwe hosted the Cosafa Senior Challenge competition, the southern African regional championships. The tournament is not recognised by Fifa so teams often use weakened sides because clubs in South Africa and Europe decline to release players. Dubbed “Zimbabwe’s own World Cup” because it was used to measure Zimbabwe’s readiness to play a part in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the 14-team event was played at two venues in Harare and Bulawayo.
After opening their account with a 3-0 win over Mauritius, the Warriors then drew 2-2 with Lesotho. They had to wait for the result between Lesotho and Mauritius to confirm their place in the quarter-finals. But the general observation was that Zimbabwe’s standards have plummeted in drastic measure.
Zim players in European top flight leagues.
England: Benjani Mwaruwari (Manchester City)
Turkey: Joseph Ngwenya (Antalyaspor)
Poland: Takesure Chinyama, Dickson Choto (both Legia Warsaw), Costa Nhamoinesu (Zagbie Lubin)
Austria: Justice Majabvi (LASK Linz)
Cyprus: Musawenkosi Mguni, Noel Kaseke (both AC Omonia)
Romania: Mike Temwanjira (FC Vaslui)
Belgium: Cephas Chimedza (Sint-Truidense), Honour Gombami, Vusa Nyoni (Cercle Brugge)