When Klaus Dieter Pagels left his post as coach of the Zimbabwe national team last summer, the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) turned to former international player Ian Gorowa to take over, and since his appointment in July 2013, the 42-year-old has managed to take the Warriors back to winning ways. Their results have seen them climb in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, five spots in the latest table to 100th in the world and 27th in Africa - their highest position since November 2012.
Their move up the rankings was due to an impressive performance in the CAF-organised African Nations Championship (CHAN) in South Africa earlier this year. The Warriors finished a credible fourth in the competition, which is put on to showcase players who are active in their local national championships. The team drew their opening two group matches against Morocco and Uganda, then beat Burkina Faso to advance to the quarter-finals. There they won 2-1 against Mali, before being beaten in a penalty shoot-out by Libya in the semi-finals. Gorowa is justifiably proud of his players. "Since I took over, the team has lost just one competitive game," he said. "That was against Nigeria in the CHAN play-off for third place. It was only a penalty shoot-out that denied us a place in the final."
Gorowa, who looks back on a successful playing career in South Africa, said that when he took over, the technical team were determined to improve things. "We said we want to put Zimbabwean football back to where it belongs because I think there have been a lot of problems within Zimbabwean football. So we just said let us now try to resuscitate and revitalise Zimbabwean football. That is my idea and my philosophy. I told the players that as a country we can now go back to those old days where Zimbabwean football was really something to talk about."
Failing at the last hurdle
Although the Warriors stumbled badly in qualifying for Brazil 2014, finishing bottom of their group with two points from six matches, the history of Zimbabwean football shows that the side often are just a step away from glory but fail to overcome the last hurdle. In 1993, they were denied a place at the 1994 FIFA World Cup™ when they lost their last qualifier against Cameroon, while they missed out on the 2012 and 2013 African Cup of Nations finals through defeats in their final contests.
I told the players that as a country we can now go back to those old days where Zimbabwean football was really something to talk about.
Gorowa believes that the main factor why the team falls short at the end is one of confidence. "Obviously it is a lack of experience in such games," he said. "I think that one thing we probably need to install in the players is the belief that they can compete with anybody on the continent. I think the group of players which we now have, have that belief." Gorowa said that the success at CHAN strengthened that. "I think the belief is now there that they can play and win against anybody."
Gorowa, who says he forgoes pay for the job because he wants to give something back to his country, said that even though Zimbabwe lacked financial resources, that could not be an excuse for lack of success. "The mindset of the people who are running the sport within our country also has to change. They have to think big. It is one thing to say there is no money but then there is no professionalism. We know there is no money, but I think whatever approach you have, it has to be professional. One thing we need to do is to create a professional atmosphere, regardless of the resources that are available."
He is confident that the progress showed during the CHAN tournament will help strengthen football in the country. "I think it is very, very important that people now support the national team. Slowly, when the results are coming, everybody will start getting interested. And as we have done that, the interest is growing."
With the draw for the 2015 AFCON due to be held in April, and qualifiers beginning in the middle of the year, Gorowa and his team can soon look forward to measuring their progress on the continental stage.