The Sunday News
LAST year promised a lot for Zimbabwean sport yet at the end of the day there was little to celebrate in terms of achievements.
A much better performance was expected from the Zimbabwe Warriors at the Africa Cup of Nations held in Gabon but they were knocked out of the group stage of the tournament.
The Warriors picked up just a point from a 2-2 draw with Algeria in their opening match of the tournament.
Zimbabwe will, since the tournament started in 2009, not be making an appearance at this year’s African Nations Championship (Chan) after losing 5-4 on penalties to Namibia at the National Sports Stadium in July.
Earlier in July, a Warriors team, mostly made up locally-based players and those turning out for clubs in South Africa, under the tutelage of Sunday Chidzambwa brought the much needed joy for local football fans when they defeated Zambia 3-1 to win a record fifth Cosafa Castle Cup title in South Africa.
The biggest greatest joy for local sport was delivered by the national cricket team when the Chevrons recorded a historic 3-2 series victory over Sri Lanka in what was the first time that Zimbabwe had conquered the Asians in their own backyard.
It was a disappointing end to the year for the cricket team when they were blown away by the Proteas in just two days in what was meant to be historic four-day, day/night pink ball Test at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth.
In October, the national sevens rugby, the Cheetahs booked a place at the 2018 Sevens Rugby World Cup to be staged in San Francisco, United States of America in July. A second place finish to host nation Uganda was enough for the Hilton Mudariki-led Cheetahs to secure a ticket to the USA.
As we take a look at what the year ahead has for us, we are optimistic for better times for all those who be engaged international assignments on behalf of this great nation.
First up is our cricket team, which leaves for Bangladesh on Tuesday for a triangular ODI series which will also feature Sri Lanka.
Seeing how they performed against Sri Lanka last year, chances of them being in the final come 27 January are bright. Conquering Bangladesh will certainly not be an easy task.
From Bangladesh, the Graeme Cremer led side make the trip to United Arab Emirates for a limited overs series against Afghanistan.
The tour starts off with two Twenty20 Internationals which are followed by five ODIs.
All this is a build to Zimbabwe’s participation in the 2019 International Cricket Council World Cup Qualifier to be held here in March.
This is the second biggest cricket event to take place in Zimbabwe after the 2003 World Cup where the country got to host their home fixtures.
Securing the rights to host the Qualifier was the best the Tavengwa Mukuhlani-led ZC board could do in order to ensure that Zimbabwe make it to the tournament in England next year. What is left is for the Heath Streak coached lads to perform on the field of play as only two of the 10 teams in the Qualifier will make it to England. Warm up matches are scheduled for 22 February to 1 March before the round robin fixtures run from 1-25 March.
Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo Athletic Club, Old Hararians, Harare Sports Club and Kwekwe Sports Club are the venues for the matches while for training purposes, Takashinga Cricket Club in Harare and the Old Mutual Heath Streak Academy will be used.
On the football front, Zimbabwean champions FC Platinum start their preparations for their second dance in the Confederation of African Football Champions League. FC Platinum have a camp in Bulawayo from tomorrow which coach Norman Mapeza said should go on for a month as they prepare to face Angolan side, Clube Desportivo Primeiro de Agosto in the preliminary round of the competition, with the first leg away during the weekend of 9 to 11 February while the second is scheduled for the period between 16 to 18 February.
With the kind of squad they have assembled, there is great optimism that the Zvishavane-based side will go far in the Caf Champions League.
On the rugby field, it is an important year for the country’s flagship national team, the Sables, who will be taking part in the Rugby Africa Gold Cup whose winner will automatically qualify for the 2019 World Cup to be held in Japan.
A runners-up spot in the six-team Gold could also mean qualification as the second best team in the African qualifiers will proceed to an intercontinental playoff against teams from other continents.
The Cheetahs will also be in action at the Sevens World Cup in July where the Gilbert Nyamutsamba-coached side will look to make an impression against the best in the world.
Late 2018 will see the resumption of the 2019 Afcon qualifiers where Zimbabwe find themselves on top of Group G.
Skipper Knowledge Musona scored a hat-trick as Zimbabwe clobbered Liberia 3-0 at the National Sports Stadium in June last year.
In September, the Warriors, who have Chidzambwa confirmed as their substantive coach, are away to Congo Brazzaville before they make a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo the following month.
A few days later, Zimbabwe are at home against DRC.
They travel to Liberia in November with the qualifiers to conclude in March 2019 when the Warriors are home against Congo Brazzaville.
We can only anticipate top notch performances from the country’s representative in whatever sporting code in 2018.