2019 Africa Cup of Nations Tournament and Southern Africa

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By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

The qualification round matches for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Cameroon have shifted into top gear. Things are pretty certain in some groups where some giants are almost guaranteed qualification but in some, it is just around the corner.

Already, football lovers are getting goosebumps in anticipation of the action, flair and skill that will be on display as Africa’s football giants battle it out for the much coveted continental prize, the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophy.

The last AFCON was a disaster for Southern Africa. For the first time, in a long while, Southern Africa was represented by just one country, Zimbabwe, at this prestigious tournament. The fact that Zimbabwe went to Gabon alone is indeed no cause for celebration. It speaks volumes about the decline of the standard of the game in Southern Africa.

Hopefully, things will be rectified this time around. However, to rectify matters in the long term means putting in place comprehensive football development programmes. All the football associations (FAs) in the region are getting colossal amounts from the world football governing body, FIFA, for development.

Given the efforts of the past two decades, FAs of the region have failed to replace legendary stars such as Sunday Chidzambwa, Moses Chunga, Peter Ndlovu (Zimbabwe) Kalusha Bwalya, Kenneth Malitoli (Zambia), Lucas Radebe, Shaun Bartlett, Benni McCarthy (South Africa), Ricardo Mannetti, Johannes “Congo” Hindjou and Eliphas Shivute (Namibia) as well as Fabrice Aqua and Flavio of Angola, to name but just a few.

There were days when Southern African teams used to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents but not anymore. Nowadays, Southern Africans have been totally eclipsed by the North and West Africans. Even the East African teams of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, which used to be the whipping boys of Southern Africa, are moving ahead faster and becoming formidable opponents for everyone on the continent.

Zimbabwe, as usual, continues to make headlines for the wrong reasons, with the team allegedly going into training camp without basic necessities such as mineral water. Sunday Chidzambwa, the legendary former Dynamos FC and Kariba coach, is in charge of the national team. Chidzambwa has done his best under adverse conditions. The Warriors recently won away from home in the DRC beating their hosts 1-2. The Brave Warriors of Namibia inflicted similar damage on Mozambique in Maputo. These two teams have managed, against all expectations, to win away games  - arare for teams from the region.

It seems the AFCON journeys of eSwatini (Swaziland) and Lesotho are coming to the usual miserable end. However, huge credit goes to the two countries who have actually qualified for the group stages unlike in previous years where they would be knocked out in the preliminary rounds. This shows some form of improvement for both countries. The steady progress being made by the two countries is in contrast with the overwhelming tendency to opt for quick-fix solutions for success by hiring and firing national coaches.

A quick survey of the various football administrations will most probably reveal that very few of them have a comprehensive 10 or 15-year technical development plan for production of players who are capable of competing with their peers on the continent and beyond. The football leaders think that players like Pele, Maradona, Messi, Drogba and Ronaldo are going to crawl out of the woodwork, somehow, through some kind of astonishing miracle. Well, this is time for a reality check! In addition, most of the football leaders are quite comfortable to sit back and relax, waiting for the respective governments to utilise public funds to bail them out of their problems. They do not have viable strategic plans and marketing initiatives to make their associations financially viable. Even with the abundant financial support that has recently been extended by the world-governing body, FIFA, most Southern African football associations have no clue as to what is really needed to transform the game in their countries.

This stagnant state of affairs is also painfully illustrated by the fact that there has been a Southern African country at the Under 17 and Under 20 World Cups finals. Southern Africa’s continued failure to qualify for these junior tournaments speaks volumes about the ability and capability of the region’s football leaders. The results speak for themselves! There is no amount of public relations or political gimmicks that can hide this state of abject and utter failure. However, the good news is that this sad situation can be rectified. It can be banished into the dustbin of history provided that the football associations, individually and collectively, come together to chart another trajectory for football development. It is entirely possible for Southern Africa to conquer the rest of the continent and the world by extension. To this end, there is a tremendous amount of work required in football development. There must be a paradigm shift from just mobilising resources for tournaments and leagues to actual development based on proven scientific principles. Without utilisation of modern sports science and medicine, Southern African teams will never be able to reach peak performance or attain world-class status. One can only hope that many Southern African national teams qualify for the 2019 AFCON in Cameroon.  

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