Robson Sharuko in Cairo, Egypt
SUNDAY Chidzambwa faces an intriguing, if not very tough choice tomorrow to either go with his trusted lieutenants that have served well so far in this adventure or go for the jugular and freshen up his Warriors with some faces, which usually don’t feature as the frontline troops?
Stick with a system, and to a large extent the first-choice personnel, who have served him with distinction and loyalty throughout this Afcon campaign or tweak it a little bit, and have the guts to thrust some of those who have been playing back-up service so far, into the fore?
Conclude there was absolutely nothing wrong with how his Warriors fared in the opening match against Egypt, itself a painful reminder of that historic, and identical, single-goal defeat by the Pharaohs when the coach, and his team, made their debut in this tournament in 2004, and say if it’s not broken then it shouldn’t be fixed.
Or, be swayed by the life injected by those who came in as substitutes, albeit a bit late in that battle against the Egyptians, by rewarding, at least, one of them with a place in the starting XI tomorrow against Uganda to provide his Warriors with a new dimension to their play?
Find comfort from those who have been praising the Warriors for their fearless approach, which, in the second half, transformed them into a dangerous unit, which, had they believed and co-ordinated their attacks better, and also taken the chances they created, should have been rewarded with, at least, a goal?
“Zimbabwe offered plenty of energy to proceedings and will head into their remaining two group matches against DR Congo and Uganda full of confidence after that,” Hanry Poole, covering this tournament for BBC Sport, concluded.
Or, be forced to reconsider a number of things, not only to give his team some freshness, which they displayed in abundance when the changes were made, but also give it the power of surprise to opponents who seemingly now know, very well in advance, who the Warriors will line up and plan to counter them?
It’s hard being Chidzambwa.
Right now, most of the criticism has been that he should have made the changes, including bringing out skipper Knowledge Musona earlier, in the match against Egypt, but the same constituency would certainly have been savagely criticising him for taking out one of the team’s X-Factors, if the gamble had not worked.
Their argument would be that Musona is the kind of talisman who can be quiet for 80 minutes before then just exploding in the final 10 minutes to make a difference and, they would probably be asking today, how does a serious coach take out a man who scored 60 percent of the team’s goals, in the qualifiers, with about half an hour to go.
Questions have also been asked why Chidzambwa didn’t pull out Nyasha Mushekwi earlier in the game against Egypt, but the same constituency has also been arguing that, when the one quality cross was finally put into the Pharaohs box late in the match, it was unfortunate the China-based forward wasn’t still on the field.
His replacement Evans Rusike met that cross, but headed it wide even though he didn’t have the pressure to force his radar to miss the effort.
Just as well, Edmore Sibanda played very well because, if he had blundered and been at fault for anything in that game, Chidzambwa would have been at the mercy of the same vicious critics, including some weird accusations being presented as the reason for his decision to go with the big goalie instead of Elvis Chipezeze.
And, crucially, just as well, too, his gamble to go with Devine Lunga on the left side of defence proved a masterstroke because, if it had failed, there would be millions of people accusing him of either being naïve, for dropping Ronald Pfumbidzai, who had played well in the qualifiers, or even having an agenda against those with Caps United links.
But, that there was an element of divinity in Devine’s performance, and the gamble to throw him into the deep end, should also provide the coach with the wisdom, and encouragement, that things can be tweaked and some fresh faces added to boost his team for future assignments, including tomorrow’s game against the Cranes.
“We didn’t perform well at the beginning of the game (against Egypt) because of fear and awe. However, the players came back into the game gradually and by the end of the first-half we were completely in the game,” Chidzambwa noted.
“We were better in the second-half and we created many chances, but we couldn’t convert them into goals.”
The Warriors need more than just a good one-half performance if they are to realise their dreams and go beyond the group stages of this tournament, and they face a Ugandan side high in confidence after their solid performance, and fine victory, over the DRC.
Chidzambwa rarely changes his beliefs and he isn’t the sort of gaffer, who, once he trusts a player, he will not back him even if that player fails him in one game.
There is a stubborn touch to his approach and it’s very unlikely he will change a lot, in terms of personnel, from the men who started in the match against Egypt to the ones who will play against Uganda.
It’s hard, if not laughable, to swallow the argument from some who are now saying the skipper should possibly start from the bench because they blame him for the mistake from which the Pharaohs scored their priceless goal and they say he didn’t show his usual quality on Friday night.
Suddenly, they have forgotten all the times he has fought, virtually alone, to drag his team to success. Granted, no one should be guaranteed a place in the starting XI when they are not either fully fit or firing at all angles and, as shown by some of the replacements on Friday night, there is quality in the whole pack of these Warriors.
“The opponents’ movements were very fast and caused us a lot of problems,” Egypt’s Mexican gaffer, Javier Aguirre, observed.
“Zimbabwe’s performance improved in the second half. We played against a very organised team. Zimbabwe had nothing to lose after conceding, which made them attack and create chances.”
But, as both Aguiree and Mhofu know, it’s the conversion of those chances that make a difference.