Sports

Africa: This Is Not Football

HE mentioned our name, of course he did, as the auditorium, packed with the leaders of world football, listened attentively.

More than 200 of them were in that room at the Doha Exhibition Centre, in the West Bay area of this tiny nation, which is the world's richest country.

They were in the heart of Doha, Qatar, the city and the country which will make history this year, when they become the first Gulf nation to host the FIFA World Cup.

With a population of just about 2,9 million, Qatar will also become the smallest nation ever to host football's biggest festival.

For a Swiss/Italian, Gianni Infantino pronounces our country's name with remarkable ease, no complication whatsoever, as every letter rolls from his tongue.

I guess, when you have been a guest in Harare, as was the case when Gianni attended Philip Chiyangwa's birthday bash in February 2017, it's easy to get to grips with how Zimbabwe should be pronounced.

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It's hard to forget that night at the Harare International Conference Centre when Gianni, bowled by the warm hospitality and the beauty of the music, ended up on the dance floor.

He looked so happy, far away from the madding crowd of the politics which haunt this monster called FIFA, and the dying tremors of the tsunami, which had consumed Sepp Blatter and company, which were still being felt.

He appeared to be Fidza's new friend, COSAFA's powerful ally and, in a way, our all-weather good friend from Zurich.

"I'm happy and proud to be in Zimbabwe," Gianni said. "We came here to celebrate the birthday of the ZIFA president.

"But, more importantly, to discuss football and concrete projects.

"We are here to serve football, and we are here with concrete actions and programmes to change the landscape of football."

Of course, our excitement was quite palpable, who needs enemies when one has friends in high players like Gianni Infantino?

This was a new era for our football, we told ourselves, things would never be the same again.

Our national game, which had suffered so much in the past, largely because of its tendency to attract leaders plucked from hell, would never be the same.

The domestic game, which had transformed itself into an island of chaos, a haven of disorder and a planet of mayhem, which collectively combined to repulse any sober and visionary leader from its community of madness.

Now and again, every decent leader would develop an allergy, whenever he was asked to come on board, to provide both guidance and sound leadership to our game.

That explains why Anthony Mandiwanza, who was a top referee back in the days, turned his back on the game, even though his success story as the chief executive of Dairibord Zimbabwe, proved his competence as a leader.

He is just one of many who felt they were better off without associating themselves with the kind of madness which, somehow, ensures that someone, who can't pronounce the words 'two thousand three hundred and forty' can become president.

All this turmoil, commotion, disorder, mayhem, pandemonium, havoc, whatever you prefer to call it, appeared a world away, something from the past, as we watched Gianni give us hope that night.

As he spoke about a tomorrow, which would be better for our football, than the brutality and negativity of its past, as he provided us with a rainbow of hope where, in the past, only a dark cloud of thunder, existed. There was a reason to believe.

After all, a few weeks earlier, the Warriors had just marked their return from the wilderness with an appearance, for the first time in 11 years, at the Nations Cup finals.

That was in Gabon.

And, Callisto Pasuwa, fresh from cementing his status as a coach we could now trust, after winning four straight league titles at Dynamos, was in charge of those Warriors.

For the first time in our history, we had qualified for the AFCON finals, as the top team in our group and, in our last two home qualifiers, had scored seven goals, without reply, against Malawi and Eswatini.

Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat, our best players, were still just 26, inching closer to their peak, while a number of players were emerging on the scene.

And, now, we had a friend in Zurich, the FIFA president himself.

He wasn't the only one who came down here, for that birthday party, which Chiyangwa threw.

Fatma Samoura, the first woman to become FIFA secretary-general, was also in Harare, Ahmad Ahmad, the man who would shortly end Issa Hayatou's autocratic rule at CAF, was also here.

Everyone who mattered in African football, except the few who remained loyal to Hayatou, were in the Sunshine City.

CAMEROON REMIND US OF WHAT WE USED TO BE

Many of them were in attendance, too, at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre, on Thursday, when Gianni took to the floor to address them.

The message, though, was different from the one he had delivered that night, amid the singing and dancing, at the Harare International Conference Centre.

Where Gianni had promised life, in Harare, he was now pronouncing death, in Doha, tightening the screws, and squeezing life out of our national game's lungs.

The anger on his face was clear as he narrated what he considered to be our transgressions, describing us as a rogue country, which had dared to challenge the independence of FIFA and its empire, by suspending our elected leaders.

The man who, just five years ago, had charmed us with his love for our country, and our game, had transformed himself into its ultimate enemy, leading the crusade, for us to be thrown out of the family.

And, his congregation duly delivered what he had demanded, when they ratified our suspension, with 199 members voting in favour of Gianni's motion, and only two opposing it.

Nine countries, presumably our regional counterparts – South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, eSwatini, Angola and Namibia – decided not to take part in the process.

It's easy to understand their decision because even if they had voted against the motion they simply didn't have the numbers to make any difference.

Yesterday, in the same auditorium where the FIFA Congress ratified our suspension, hosted the draw for the 2022 World Cup final.

The 32 countries, which will feature at the global festival, now know who their opponents are.

One of the countries, which were in yesterday's draw, is Cameroon, whose Indomitable Lions plucked themselves from the jaws of elimination, with a last-gasp goal, to win their ticket to Qatar.

Cameroon's presence in the draw was important for us because the Indomitable Lions, more than any other national team, provide us with a reminder of a time when we used to be a real football nation.

A time when the headlines, in our football, emanated from events on the field, rather than from the boardroom and, as has become the case now, from the Harare Magistrates Court.

A time when the headlines, in our football, were being generated by the players, and their coaches, rather than a bunch of administrators, with absolutely no clue whatsoever, about this game.

A group of people who probably didn't even know that two yellow cards, in the same match, will mean a player has been expelled from that particular game.

A group of people who probably didn't even know that only a goalkeeper is allowed to use his hands, without being punished, in the penalty area.

And, a people who probably didn't even know that the Warriors have never been to the World Cup finals before in their history.

These are the people who have repeatedly let us down.

And, rather than hear our nation being mentioned, in such grand auditoriums, as being part of the draw, we are now hearing it being mentioned for all the wrong reasons, as one of those whose suspension has been ratified.

They don't even know that 30 years ago, we embarked on a World Cup qualifying journey which brought us within the golden gates of the Promised Land.

On October 9, 1992, at the National Sports Stadium, our beautiful journey, which would transform this country's international football profile forever, got underway.

The opponents were Togo and, in a tight match, typical of a World Cup qualifier, Adam Ndlovu scored the goal, which made all the difference, in a 1-0 win for us.

By the end of the group stages, we had played six games, taking our campaign to Lome in Togo, Luanda in Angola, Cairo in Egypt and Lyon in France, winning four games, drawing two and losing none of our matches.

The roadshow then took us to Conakry in Guinea and, finally, Yaounde in Cameroon.

This is where a winner-take-all battle against the Indomitable Lions, eventually decided who would go to the World Cup, and who was going to stay at home.

With virtually the whole world supporting us, having been charmed by our carefree campaign, in which we had passed major tests around the continent, we gave as much as we got, in that classic final battle.

However, the Indomitable Lions had a lot in their favour, at a time when their own son, Issa Hayatou was the CAF president, and the match officials broke every rule in the book, to help their cause.

A 3-1 victory for them, in which a penalty was given, which is quite common in such matches where referees play a big part, sent them to the United States, while we stayed at home.

We didn't know it then but Reinhard Fabisch's Cindrella African adventure had effectively come to an end.

He would resurface in Benin, taking them to the 2008 Nations Cup finals, but this was a different Fabisch, weighed down by cancer and, in July that year, he died.

DO THEY EVEN KNOW WHO AJIRA IS?

We mourned him, because he was one of us, and because he had found a way to make us realise how good we really were, and believe in ourselves. Of course, not everyone loved him on the continent.

One of those, who didn't like him, was veteran Egyptian coach, Mohamed el Gohary, who was in charge of the Pharaohs, when we knocked them out of the '94 World Cup campaign.

El Gohary accused Fabisch of being a cheat, after the chaos which rocked our qualifier in Cairo, whose result was nullified by FIFA, leading us to have that replay in France.

"Fabisch stayed on the ground for a long time, bandages were put around his head and he was admitted to hospital but he was not seriously hurt," said Gohary, after the German coach was hit by a missile on the head.

"He cheated as much as Maradona against England."

The irony of all this is that Fabisch's romance with us will end under a cloud of allegations of cheating, when he tossed those United States hundred dollar notes to the referees, accusing them of having been bribed, after our loss in Yaounde.

It earned him a one-year ban from coaching and, from there, he wasn't the same again.

But, his legacy remains, especially among us, who were privileged to be part of those beautiful days, and wild nights, when the Dream Team rocked our world.

We still see it in the eyes of Peter Ndlovu.

The greatest Warrior of all-time, the first elephant to fly, in a way that was so unique, the English called him Un-Love, their tongues unable to roll and say out the word Ndlovu.

We still see it in the memory of Benjamin Nkonjera.

The toughest defensive midfielder to wear our Warriors kit, a tiger who used to make a mockery of his tiny frame and win duels against Man Mountains from West Africa, in battles which were as epic as they were brutal.

We called him Makanaky, yet another example of our bond with the Indomitable Lions, because we felt he reminded us of Cyrille Makanaky.

We still see it in the calmness of Agent Sawu, we called him Ajira, a natural goal-scorer, who would have also been fit to be nicknamed "Mr Goals," "Bere," "Chinyaride," "Mr Goals."

The only challenge was that the last four nicknames had already been taken by the immortal Shackman Tauro.

I was telling my boy Kalusha yesterday that, during the '94 World Cup qualifiers only one player, the legendary Rashidi Yekini of Nigeria, scored more goals than Ajira in Africa.

And, my CAPS United supporting son's reaction was like, "it's a poor and cheap April Fool's Day joke daddy because we don't have such kind of quality, among our players, in this country."

I forgave him, for all his reluctance to find comfort in reality, because he has grown up during a period when nothing has worked, in our football.

Then, I broke it all down for him, step by step.

Telling him that Ajira scored SIX goals in that World Cup campaign and Yekini scored EIGHT goals.

That it could have been SEVEN for Agent, had his goal in Cairo not been nullified, together with the result of that match.

That our boy Ajira scored more goals, during those qualifiers, than Ian Wright, Roberto Baggio, Dennis Bergkamp, Gheorghi Hagi and Hristo Stoichkov, who all had five goals, in the qualifiers.

That only five players, in Europe, scored more goals, in those qualifiers, than Ajira, and one of them was the great Ian Rush, for Wales.

That only eight players, in Asia, scored more goals, in those qualifiers, than Ajira.

That only two players, including ex-Manchester City striker Shaun Goater, scored more goals than Ajira, in CONCACAF, in those qualifiers.

That only one player, Luis Ramallo of Bolivia, scored more goals than Ajira, in South America, during those qualifiers.

And, amazingly, that Bebeto (5), Rai (3), Romario (2) and Batistuta (two), who are some of the greatest footballers of all-time, scored fewer goals than Ajira, during those qualifiers.

That, during the '94 World Cup qualifiers, Ajira was the 18th leading goal-scorer throughout the world.

That's a throwback to a time when our football used to do the talking, now it's the politics of football, which is doing all the talking.

Even at such events like the FIFA Congress.

That is the price people pay for bringing in outsiders to run their game because, from the word go, these people never cared about our football because it was never their sport.

They don't care now and, at no point in the future, will they ever care.

It's even very likely that they don't even know who Agent Sawu is.

To God Be The Glory!

Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton, Daily Service, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and all the Chakariboys still in the struggle.

Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ronaldoooooooooooooooooooooo!

Artmotion S.Africa

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