A CAMPAIGN that began last year with a gruelling 748,6km bus trip to Lilongwe to play Malawi in their opening match of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers remarkably concluded this year with the Warriors booking a ticket to the continental championships for the first time in 10 years. BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
Not only did they claim their place among the best 16 football nations in Africa, but they did as group winners for the first time in the country’s history.
It was finally something to cheer about on the field of play for local football although challenges such as player strikes over unpaid dues, lack of adequate preparations and almost always failing to fulfil away fixtures were a constant feature.
Zimbabwe sealed qualification in the penultimate round of the qualification campaign with an emphatic 4-0 drubbing of Malawi in June.
Despite having at least three months to prepare for the final dead-rubber qualifier, Zifa supremo Phillip Chiyangwa was busy plotting to dribble past the association’s creditors by dumping Zifa for a new creation, alias Nafaz.
While in-house problems bedevilled the local football association, the September 5 away fixture against Guinea crept close and a week before the match no travel arrangements had been put in place for the team.
The country was in serious danger of disqualification in the event of failing to make the trip to Guinea and on September 3 mobile phone operator NetOne came to the rescue.
There was a general sigh of relief when a chartered flight left the Harare International Airport less than 24 hours before kickoff and with that, Zimbabwe’s participation in Gabon was guaranteed.
While Zimbabwe will be making a third appearance at Afcon come January 14 2017, a dark cloud hangs over local football as the impasse between Premier Soccer League clubs and Zifa is expected to continue into the new year.
As for their female counterparts, the year began after they had already qualified for Rio Olympic Games and one way or the other, it was going to be an eventful year.
After making it to Rio against all odds, the Mighty Warriors expected to receive red carpet preparations all the way until the global games.
The ladies national team put the cherry on top of the cake when they qualified for the Africa Women Cup of Nations (Awcon) in April, meaning they would participate in two major events in a calendar.
While they were promised training camps in South America when they qualified under the Cuthbert Dube administration, the Chiyangwa-led association could only afford a month-long camp in Bindura as preparation for the Olympics.
The consequences were there for all to see. The Mighty Warriors were humiliated left, right and centre; losing 6-1, 3-1 and 6-1 to Germany, Canada and Australia respectively.
A combination of luck and an innate fighting spirit kept the girls from losing by double figures in almost all the matches.
And when they came back on August 13, all they got was $5 transport money for those who stay in Harare and $15 for those from outside the capital city.
The transport tokens were given to the girls by the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee and Zifa had nothing prepared for the girls.
Since then the Mighty Warriors have had to feast on a barrage of empty promises from the national association and they are still owed allowances and housing stands promised to them when they qualified for Awcon in April.
As if that was not enough, the Mighty Warriors only had nine days to prepare for Awcon which was hosted in Cameroon last month.
And naturally, they crushed out in the group stages losing to minnows Egypt and hosts Cameroon, while they drew with neighbours South Africa.
All year long the Mighty Warriors were treated as second-rate athletes in the country.
CAPS United end 11-year wait
CAPS United players celebrate after winning the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League title
Hearty congratulations go to 2016 Castle Lager Premier Soccer League champions CAPS United who won a fifth league title and the first in 11 years since they won back-to-back championships in 2004 and 2005.
A big milestone for Lloyd Chitembwe and his charges who shrugged off stiff competition from Zvishavane-based platinum miners FC Platinum to win on the final day.
Utility player Hardlife Zvirekwi was voted the soccer star of the year, while teammate veteran striker Leonard Tsipa was the top goalscorer.
League debutants Ngezi Platinum FC will represent the country in the CAF Confederation Cup following their fairytale triumph in the Chibuku Super Cup under the tutelage of Tonderai Ndiraya.
Kirsty Coventry bids adieu
Zimbabwe’s swimming icon Kirsty Coventry waved goodbye to an illustrious Olympic career in which she won seven of Zimbabwe’s eight Olympic medals since 1980.
The 32-year-old legendary swimmer capped off her Olympic swansong with a commendable sixth-place finish in the final of her signature event, the 200 metre backstroke at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The Rio Olympics were Coventry’s fifth and final Summer Games in a glittering Olympic career dating back to Sydney 2000.
In cricket, Zimbabwe finally got rid of World Cup-winning coach Dave Whatmore after the team performed dismally at the T20 World Cup, crushing out in the first round after playing against an associate side.
The team also played two Test series in a calendar year against New Zealand and Sri Lanka which all ended in a whitewash defeat.
The Zimbabwe Under-21 hockey team qualified for the Women’s Hockey Junior World Cup for the first time in 11 years, while their netball counterparts also booked their ticket for the prestigious World Cup Youth Netball Cup.
In conclusion, despite the prevailing harsh economic conditions which impacted negatively on the growth of sport in the country, Zimbabwean teams and individual athletes continued to punch above their weight on the international scene.