Zimbabwe’s interim national football team coach, Norman Mapeza, says he takes full responsibility for the Warriors’ failure to get to the next round of 16 nations at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Cup (AFCON) in Cameroon.
In an exclusive interview with Studio7, Mapeza admitted that the Warriors could have stormed into the next round had they utilized the many chances they squandered against Senegal and Malawi.
In its first match in Cameroon, Zimbabwe lost 1-0 to Senegal through a penalty in the dying last minute of the match. That gave The Lions of Teranga three points to lead Group B teams, which also included Malawi and Guinea.
Zimbabwe’s Kelvin Madzongwe conceded a penalty with a hand ball in the penalty area and Senegal’s right-footed Sadio Mane converted the penalty with a powerful shot to the bottom left corner of the net.
“I told my team not to panic in the last minutes of the game. They played very well but luck was not on our side,” said Mapeza.
Mapeza, who coaches FC Platinum at home, told Studio7 that his team disappointed a lot of people when it lost to Malawi 2-1 when Zimbabwean soccer fans thought The Flames team was a walk-over for the Warriors.
The Warriors were first to score in the 38th minute when Onismor Bhasera delivered a telling cross, which was headed into the top center of the goal by Ishmael Wadi.
The Flames equalized in the 43rd minute of the first half when a cross from Francisco Madinga found an unmarked Gabadinho Mhango, who sent a right-footed shot past the Zimbabwean goalkeeper. The Flames took the lead in the 58th minute when Mhango scored his second goal.
Mapeza (50) came under heavy criticism from football fans for having on the bench AFC Bournemouth’s utility player, Jordan Zemura, only to bring in the left-footed defender in the 67th minute when the Warriors were already trailing 2-1 to The Flames.
Despite losing the first two games, Mapeza’s team fought like angry bees - stinging Guinea 2-1 in their last Group B match. Knowledge Musona’s header in the 26th minute from a Never Tigere cross put the Warriors in the lead. Just before half time, Kudakwashe Mahachi added another goal to make it 2-0 in the 43rd minute.
Guinea’s consolation goal came in the 49th minute when Naby Keita found the net with a left-footed shot from outside the box.
“We went to Cameroon with the objective of going to the second round. Of course, I am the coach I take the blame. I can’t blame anybody,” said Mapeza.
Asked whether he will continue as Warriors’ coach, the former Dream Team player said, “Look, I am not the one who appointed myself to be the national team coach. Those people who put me in that place are the ones that will make the decision.”
Mapeza said his contract with the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) was to take the national soccer team to the AFCON games.
“We are back home. My contract ended because we are no longer in the AFCON games,” explained Mapeza, noting that his future with the national football team will be decided by the Zimbabwean football authorities.
But the Zifa board was suspended in November 2021 by the Sports and Recreation Commission for allegedly abusing of public funds.
The Felton Kamambo-led Zifa board is denying the allegations.
The international football governing body, Fifa, ordered the Sports and Recreation Commission to reinstate the Zifa board by January 3, 2022, and threatened to ban Zimbabwe from international football if the board was not reinstated by the deadline it set.
There was no immediate comment from Fifa regarding the fate of Zimbabwean football.
Despite the politics bedeviling Zimbabwean football, Mapeza said it’s time for Zimbabwe to look forward and find ways to build a strong national team which can go to any tournament and bring home the desired results.