EDITORIAL COMMENT: Warriors lost a battle, not the war

IT has been quite an eventful week for our Warriors —from charming the world with a stylish performance in the 2-2 draw against Algeria to being outplayed, in their second afcon Group B match, by a rampant Senegal — at the 2017 Nations Cup finals in Gabon. Our boys captured the imagination of the football world on Sunday, in their first group match in Franceville, when they turned on the style against Algeria with a performance that should have been rewarded with more than just the point they harvested at the end.

Not many analysts had given our Warriors a chance to get anything in this tough group, dubbed the Group of Death, but they proved them wrong with a hearty showing, in their first game, as they took the match to the Algerians who then needed a late goal from their star Riyad Mahrez to steal a point.

That performance showed the world, if ever it had doubted, that the Warriors were in Gabon on merit and deserved their qualification from a group that featured continental football heavyweights Guinea, who fell by the wayside, as Callisto Pasuwa and his men grabbed the sole ticket to Africa’s biggest football festival.

That the Warriors could even produce such an impressive show, against such a highly-rated side, playing for much of the game without their talisman Knowledge Musona, who was forced out of the match after only a few minutes because of a hamstring strain, underlined the spectacular nature of that performance.

It fuelled optimism among their fans that these Warriors had come of age with some even suggesting they could become the first team from this country to make it beyond the group stages of the afcon finals after the troops of 2004 and 2006 were blown away in the group games and returned home after the first round of fixtures.

But, on Thursday, Africa’s number one-ranked national football team, the Lions of Teranga of Senegal, provided a reality check for the Warriors as the West Africans outplayed our boys, in their second Group B match, to romp to a comfortable 2-0 victory in which the gulf in class, between the two teams, was very evident.

The Senegalese fielded four players who ply their trade in the English Premiership, including Liverpool’s speed merchant Sadio Mane, the most expensive African footballer in history, as they threw everything at our Warriors and were duly rewarded with all the three points which secured them a place in the quarter-finals.

But, although we lost on Thursday, what is important is that we are still in contention to make history by qualifying for the quarter-finals and all that we need is just to beat Tunisia, in our final group match on Monday, and hope that Algeria do not beat the powerful Senegalese by a bigger winning margin than ours.

For us, that is what is important right now rather than the negativity which we have seen from some quarters, including the very people who were saying our boys will be humiliated in Gabon, those who never gave them a chance to even compete against the very best teams on the continent.

Therefore, while the loss to Senegal might have been disappointing, we should not let it destroy our Gabonese adventure and cripple our brave march to make it into the knockout stages of the tournament.

It’s just a battle that we lost, we haven’t lost the war, and that is the big message that coach Callisto Pasuwa should be hammering into the heads of his players so that they don’t let the disappointment of that loss to Senegal wreck their afcon campaign.

We showed, in patches, in that second half against the Lions of Teranga, that we can compete against the very best and all that we need, right now, is belief, and there is nothing that can stop us from beating a Tunisian side that also lost, by the same scoreline, to the Senegalese.

The Tunisians refused to let that defeat deflate their morale and they quickly bounced back to beat Algeria 2-1, in a pressure game where a loss would have resulted in their elimination, and we should use them as an example that we, too, can find a way back from the disappointment of that loss at the hands of Senegal and bounce back in style.

Crucially, Musona, for long our best player in the past few years, will be back for action against Tunisia and that provides us with hope because, as we have seen in the games against Senegal and Algeria, Pasuwa has struggled to find a competent replacement for the Smiling Assassin given that our Belgium-based star provides goals as well as assists for his teammates upfront.

There is no reason for us to go on a witch-hunt right now, blaming the coach or his players, even though we know they could have done better against Senegal, because what is important, at the moment, is for us to focus on the next game because this is very, very crucial and we need to confront the Tunisians as a united front.

We still believe in our Warriors.

Article Source: The Herald