THE Zimbabwe national women’s soccer team, the Mighty Warriors, deserve our praise for their remarkable history-making achievement of becoming the first football side to qualify for the Olympic Games after beating Cameroon 3-2 on aggregate on the away goals rule. The Mighty Warriors lost their first leg encounter 1-2 in Yaoundé, but that away goal proved crucial as they defeated the visitors 1-0 in Harare on Sunday to make history.
Their accomplishment is life-changing, not financially, but in terms of what they have done for women’s sport in the country. Although we generally lack a culture of praising success, most local soccer fans have been swept away by the tide of triumph created by the Mighty Warriors, and even the most critical among us have been caught up in a whirl of Olympic excitement.
We commend the girls for displaying exemplary strength, courage, determination and patriotism as well as great skills to eclipse their male counterparts with their fantastic performances to expertly navigate through the qualifiers despite the number of hurdles they faced along the way.
They faced the humiliation of being threatened with expulsion from qualifiers after failing to fulfil their away encounter against Côte d’Ivoire following the now too familiar bungling by Zifa, but fate came to their rescue after the Ivorians pulled out of the second leg citing lack of funds. They also had to contend with Zifa’s promises and lies over their dues, but they soldiered on and are now soaking in the success of their endurance.
Even after they had been pushed into the last qualifier against Cameroon, most wrote them off, giving them no chance against the West Africans, who had history on their side. After losing 1-2 in Cameroon, it was probably only the girls that believed that they could do what has never been done in Zimbabwean football before as we had become a nation of chokers by always falling at the final hurdle.
However, the Mighty Warriors’ defensive resilience was the key to victory. They were better organised and restricted the Cameroonians to very few chances in Harare.
They made us realise that technique is a massive part of football and their desire to win against all odds must be hailed. The girls were courageous throughout the match and their accomplishment transcends just a score- line in a soccer game, but also provides a great opportunity to inspire another generation of young female footballers.
A new initiative focusing on encouraging girls aged between seven and 12 to sign up and find out where they can get involved with football must be rolled out piggybacking on the Mighty Warriors’ feat. The development of women’s football has declined in recent years with fans showing little interest as Zifa continued to ignore the game, but our girls’ achievement has now provided Zifa with a new platform to revive the game.
Most girls are likely to take football seriously with the belief that it’s possible for them to compete in the Olympics as long as they show the same determination and willpower the Mighty Warriors displayed throughout the qualifiers. Now that they have qualified, the Mighty Warriors need our unconditional support to enable them to prepare hard to surpass their extraordinary heroics when they take to the global stage in 2016.
The women’s soccer league in the country is yet to take shape and there is urgent need to revisit it to ensure we have a functional national league that will keep our girls active and fit for their dream-come-true debut in Rio next year. For the sake of the Mighty Warriors, Women’s Football League councillors must set aside their egos and come together. This is one of the biggest tasks awaiting the new Zifa board set to be voted in on December 5.
The new board would also have to address the dwindling financial support for women’s football, lack of structures and inadequate programmes that have caused the demise of the game. The haphazard manner in which women’s football has been approached over the years has also killed the interest of some players and clubs.
Our girls have the potential to compete at the top if things are properly organised, so proper structures and better systems must be put in place to make it easier to lure potential sponsors.