Last night’s match between Zimbabwe and Tunisia brought to mind Shakespeare’s Macbeth when Macbeth remarks to Seyton that life’s “but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more.”
The same might be said of the Warriors of Zimbabwe, after they were dumped out of this year’s edition of the Africa Cup of Nations. They played like shadows of themselves, fretted and strutted for a while, then were eliminated in ignominious fashion.
When the inquest into the Warriors’ dismal performance at this year’s AFCON comes, as it will inevitably do, excuses will be proffered, as always. It will be pointed out that the group was a difficult one, a so called group of death, that our football administration makes it impossible for a coach to win and so on.
Yet, however mitigatory these circumstances may be, the blame for last night’s defeat ought to be laid squarely on Callisto Pasuwa’s feet.
Zimbabwe entered this match knowing that only a win would do. Anything else would mean an early return home. Surprisingly, given the circumstances, Pasuwa opted for a defensive formation that featured two defensive midfielders and a central midfielder flanked by wingers and Nyasha Mushekwi as the sole striker.
In midfield Danny Phiri made a return, partnering the Zimbabwean Captaim Willard Katsande with Marvelous Nakamba in a slightly more advanced midfield role. Kuda Mahachi dropped to the bench, as his spot on the wing was taken by Knowledge Musona. Billiat occupied the other wing and Nyasha Mushekwi, despites his poor showing in the last two matches, played as the outright striker. The backline remained unchanged.
One would have thought that after the first two matches the coach would choose a more offensive formation and picked Tendai Ndoro in place of Mushekwi. Additionally, playing Danny Phiri together with Katsande and Nakamba meant the midfield triumvirate was going to be very defensive right from the start. The problems were compounded by the fact that this three played so close to one another that it was impossible to distribute the ball effectively in the middle of the pitch.
Zimbabwe were pressurized by a very aggressive Tunisia from the first minute, with the North Africans relying on width to outpace the narrow Zimbabweam midfield. Danny Phiri lunged into a reckless challenge that earned him a yellow card. This resulted in a free kick that was powerfully shot at goal, leading to a corner as Tatenda Mukuruva arrived late to parry the ball out. The resulting corner was cut inwards, and met by Sliti who shot at goal and benefited from a defelection that wrong-footed Mukuruva and went in.
That was in the first ten minutes. It meant Callisto Pasuwa’s team had conceded at least a goal in the first fifteen minutes of every match they had played. Such porousness is unacceptable at a competition of this level, and it highlighted that Pasuwa had not learnt anything from the first two matches, in which he had conceded early goals to both Senegal and Algeria.
Ten or so minutes later Tunisia got their second when the impressive Youssef Msikani poked a goal in after terrible defending from the Warriors and before long it was three. Knowledge Musona showed class and composure to pull one back for the Warriors just before half time but a minute later Zimbabwe were caught in a counter attack. Costa Nhamoinesu dragged down and a penalty was awarded. Wahbi Khazri coolly scored from the spot to make it four.
That’s how it stood at the interval: Tunisia 4, the Warriors 1. At that point it was clear as daylight that the game was effectively over as a contest. The Warriors had lost control of the game just after kick off and had been punished for it, letting in plenty of goals and gifting Tunisia a place in the knockout stages.
At halftime Callisto Pasuwa brought in Tendai Ndoro to replace Danny Phiri but the move was a late one. Zimbabwe were more composed and played better, though we were left wondering why Mushekwi was still on the pitch.
The second half was a much better one for the Warriors: Musona showed why his absence in the first two matches mattered, while the brilliant Khama Billiat dazzled displayed great skill, showing why he is arguably the finest player playing on the continent while Tatenda Mukuruva continued to shine, denying Tunisia a fifth and even a sixth. The game improved so much that Zimbabwe scored a second, this time from Tendai Ndoro.
Despite late resurgence from the Warriors, the game had died in the first half when terrible defending and tactical ineptitude condemned Zimbabwe to an ignoble defeat in the first half-hour. The Zimabwean right back, Hardlife Zvirekwi was frequently caught wandering out of position, granting the Tunisian wingers acres of space from which they could torment the Warriors. The central defender Elisa Muroyiwa was as bad, he was terribly caught out on several occasions, with two of those leading to a goal.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the team Zimbabwe sent out to face Tunisia were boys picked from the Sunday amateur “boozers” leagues, playing for a few beers and bragging rights. The players themselves did nothing to dispel this notion. The coach himself was probably the worst of the lot, he looked out of his depth from the second game onwards and this was surely his worst game in charge of the Warriors. It was a measure of his quality that with the Warriors trailing by four goal to one he had only made one substitution, and even though it was clear that the game was irredeemable, he could not bring himself to bring on some new players who we had not seen such as Tino Kadewerere, for instance, in place of people like Nyasha Mushwekwi who commanded an undeserved first team jersey.
It is no accident, then, that Callisto Pasuwa, with his solitary point, is the worst manager to ever coach the Warriors at the Africa Cup of Nations. He showed a shocking lack of tactical understanding, picked the wrong people and made the wrong substitutions.
The only bright sparks at this tournament were Tatenda Mukuruva, Khama Billiat, and briefly, Knowledge Musona.Together with Nakamba these can be a foundation upon which we can build future teams.
However there can be no doubt that Pasuwa should not be in charge of those future teams.At the grandest stage of all he was left floundering.
When the match finally ended, the relief on the Warriorss faces was palpable- their torment had also ended. And so had their appearance at the tournament. Pasuwa and his poor players had strutted and fretted their hour upon the African field, to be heard no more.