That general belief was premised on the fact that the y38 year old coach had never been given his chance despite his success with the Warriors team in the short interim period he coached it.
The Warriors qualified for the 2011 African Nations Championships and it also picked up two points from the two games the team played for the 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifiers against Liberia and Cape Verde.
Despite this success, Zifa had sidelined him for the coaching post, which was given to Madinda Ndlovu and sparked anger among fans. Mapeza had quit Zifa’s coaching team last November citing confusion. Ndlovu’s appointment followed the denial of a work permit for Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet.
German coach Rudi Gutendorf once said during his first visit to Zimbabwe in 1986. ‘The national team is the pride and display window of any nation. There is nothing than can thrill the fans more than the success of the national team when playing international football. When that does not happen, there are emotions and anger.’
The emotions and anger of Zimbabwe’s soccer fans following the Warriors disastrous campaign in Sudan could have forced a re-think on the part of Zifa and appointed Mapeza as new coach of the Warriors. Zifa president Cuthbert Dube said he hoped Mapeza would change the fortunes of the Warriors.
‘Zifa actually knew that a loss in the next game without the popular Mapeza was going to spell doom for them. So they had to find a popular figure in order to cover their tracks and that figure happened to be Mapeza,’ says AY Academy director, Yasini Abudada.
Now that Mapeza has landed the post there is need for him to repay the public for all the support they gave him. The coach needs to justify the faith the fans have put in him, and he can only do that by winning.
He has to be reminded that nothing short of qualification to the 2012 African Cup of Nations will be entertained by the same fans that have supported him all the way.
Mapeza himself says is aware of the expectations of the whole nation and has also promised qualification to the Nations Cup. He says he will do everything to the best of his ability to see that the goal was realised.
Promise only, however, is not enough to the Zimbabwean fans who have a history of turning against their own team when the opposition is playing better. The 2006 Nigerian experience at the National Sports Stadium is a testimony. After failing to qualify for the 2008 and 2010 Nations Cup, the nation is desperate for success and even Zifa is anxious to put the nightmarish experience of the immediate past behind all soccer loving fans.
The pressure on Mapeza is even made immense by the fact that what he is going to do will be judged against what the other previous local coaches Sunday Chidzambwa and Charles Mhlauri did. The two took the Warriors to the 2004 and 2008 Nations Cup, and that is also expected from Mapeza.
More importantly, is the fact that Mapeza has taken over the job which had initially been offered to Mhlauri, who is now based in the United States of America and comparisons will definitely be drawn in the manner their different teams play.
For the record, it is also Zimbabwe’s game against Mali in 2004 that set the tone for Zimbabwe’s first ever qualification to the Nations Cup when the Warriors won 1-0 in Bamako courtesy of a Lazarus Muhoni header. Mapeza is on March 26 taking his team to the same stadium where a victory will also strongly bring back his team into contention for a place at the football festival.
Those who know Mapeza better predict he will not fail the assignment of leading the Warriors to the continental rendezvous. Former Warriors coach Wieslaw Grabowski who took Mapeza from the dusty football pitches of Chitungwiza says Mapeza will break through. ‘In those short terms he has been in charged, he has not disappointed. What he only needs is support from everyone,’ said Grabowski.
The chairman of the Zimbabwe Soccer Coaches Association Bekimpilo Nyoni says it is difficult to judge a coach by one or two games adding that now that he has a long term contract Mapeza will deliver. ‘He is a good coach, a great motivator who leads by example. I think with him in charge, we will qualify for the Nations Cup,’ said Nyoni.
The fans have certainly played their part in putting pressure on Zifa to give Mapeza the national coach’s job. Now the onus is on him to justify all the support they gave him.