WHEN the Warriors troop out onto the Stade De Kouekong turf in Baffousam, Cameroon, this evening for their Africa Cup of Nations finals Group B encounter against Malawi, only one thing will be in the minds of the players and millions of Zimbabweans in and outside the country — victory.
The rules of engagement for this encounter, which kicks off at 6PM Zimbabwean time, are clear for head coach Norman Mapeza, captain Knowledge Musona and the rest of their players that will do duty for the motherland.
Our national team is nicknamed the Warriors and we all know what a warrior is.
A warrior is a brave or experienced soldier or fighter, according to the dictionary definition, not just anyone.
Although most of our players lack experience of playing on such a big stage, they have bravery to back them up, and supported by the experienced lot in the side, Zimbabwe has all the ingredients to douse the flames of Malawi.
Their bravery was on display against Senegal in their opening match despite agonisingly falling to a smash-and-grab goal at the death.
For a good 93 minutes, the Warriors had bravely kept an eye on the Lions of Teranga, matching them man-for-man, and with a bit of luck, they could have caused an upset, but lack of experience got the better of them and the Lions seized the chance and went for the kill.
Hopefully they learnt from their mistakes and will extinguish the Flames this evening.
The charge is simple; extinguish the Flames or be consumed by their red-hot embers.
And the entire nation expects nothing more than to see Malawi in ashes at the end of regulation time.
Bravery alone without delivering the sucker punch is unacceptable today, otherwise we might as well change the name of the team, because Warriors are generally associated with victory.
We can’t continue being Warriors when we are vanquished by nations we previously wouldn’t even consider for friendly matches.
We are alive to the painful reality that ever since our inaugural Afcon finals appearance in Tunisia 18 years ago, we have returned empty-handed from our continental hunt; always returning home without venturing deep into the forest for a good catch.
We have always bowed out in the group stages of the tournament and today is the day our boys need to erase our cameo appearances.
The time has come for us to be counted among the tough Afcon performers.
We have been too predictable for far too long, such that every team drools to be drawn against the Warriors, knowing that we crumble when it matters most.
In previous Afcon tournaments, especially the last two in Gabon and Egypt, reports of unrest over Zifa’s promises and lies were daily experience.
Remuneration ignited this unrest, as Zifa focused on wining and dining its entire band of councillors and their hangers-on at the expense of players’ welfare.
However, this time around, the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) helped arrest the madness by ensuring that money provided by the Government directly benefited the players and not officials.
If anything else other than football dominates the players’ minds, then there is no redemption for our national team.
But Monday’s performance provided a glimpse of a happy camp and today’s collision against the Flames is our little Afcon “final” for the simple reason that failure to garner maximum points renders the last group match against Guinea in Yaounde a dead rubber.
We were charmed by Mapeza when he stated that victory over Malawi was what was in their minds and today, we await fulfilment of his optimism.
Our last game against Guinea must be competitive and not one to give other players a feel of Afcon in a dead rubber encounter.
We have the capacity to beat Malawi today, but we can only do that by converting chances we create.
So, we must do a proper business transaction against Malawi this evening and right now failure is not an option.
We need every weapon in our armoury firing accurately today to make history and finally be counted in continental football.
We can’t cement a reputation of always falling in the group stages.
President Mnangagwa said on the eve of their opener against Senegal: “Warriors! All of Zimbabwe is behind you today. I am certain that you will make our country proud.”
The President’s words still ring true today. The whole nation is behind you and remember you are Warriors, so go out there and douse the Flames and leave Malawi in ashes.
“Phakamisan’ if’legi, yethu yeZimbabwe!”