AFTER two days of total chaos in the Warriors camp that had threatened to derail their Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) campaign due to start on Saturday in Gabon, the team finally left the country yesterday for Cameroon after Zifa partially met the players’ demands.
The players left Harare in three batches, with the first comprising of seven departing in the morning, followed by another group of 13 in the afternoon, while captain Willard Katsande, Costa Nhamoinesu and goalkeeper Bernard Donovan were on the evening flight.
In the group that left in the morning was the team’s poster boy, Khama Billiat, who arrived in the country on Saturday afternoon, from Lagos, where he had attended the Confederation of African Football (Caf) Awards.
Billiat was widely tipped to win the Caf Player of the Year (based in Africa) award, but the gong went to his Mamelodi Sundowns team-mate, Dennis Onyango of Uganda, with the Warriors man coming second.
Their departure for Yaoundé, where they will play a friendly match against the hosts tomorrow before proceeding to Gabon, marked the end of a stormy impasse between the players and Zifa over match fees, daily allowances and winning bonuses.
Speaking just before departure, Katsande said the players have already put the episode behind them, and they are now sorely focusing on the Afcon games.
“In terms of our preparations, nothing has changed, we are all geared up and we are happy with the mood and the fitness levels. In terms of our relationship with Zifa, nothing has changed. We had some disagreements in our negotiations, but the good thing is we found each other in the end. As players, we keep reminding each other that this is our time and chance to shine. We have issues, but we have said, money is going to come, so let’s do our bit,” he said.
The players, who only agreed to go to Cameroon after being paid their daily allowances, reported to be $1 500 each, are demanding an appearance fee of $5 000 per player for each match at Afcon, and $400 in foreign daily allowances.
The two parties signed an agreement, where Zifa have pledged to pay the money by Thursday, failure to which the players have threatened to boycott the tournament.
The players are also pressing for a $6 000 winning bonus, an amount which would increase by $2 000 with every stage they reach.
Zifa, on the other hand, was offering the footballers $500 in appearance fees and $50 in local daily allowances and $150 in foreign daily allowances.
Things came to a head on Friday night when the team snubbed a farewell dinner organised by the government, in which Acting President Emmerson Mnangagwa was the guest of honour.
The standoff saw the team missing their scheduled Saturday flight to Cameroon, but after a series of tense meetings in which Zifa finally bowed down to their demands, the players agreed to board the plane.
“A lot has happened in the past two days, but its over now. We have resolved our differences and so we should unite as a nation. We are going out there to fight with everything we have. Our objective is to go all the way, but the first priority is to qualify for the next stage and then take each game as it comes. We have the quality to match other teams and achieve our objective, what we need is everyone’s support,” Katsande said.
“We need to leave a mark in Africa. The mood is good in the camp. The players are happy with the agreement we arrived at with Zifa, our minds are free. We are like a family in the team, as evidenced by the way we celebrated birthdays of some of the players in camp this week. It was a good moment, in terms of bonding, for the team.”
Tino Kadewere, Nhamoinesu and Onismo Bhasera celebrated their birthdays this week.
Turning to the Cameroon preparatory match, Katsande said: “We don’t have to give away too much because we know our opponents would be spying on us. But it’s a good training game for us in terms of building confidence for the finals.”
The Warriors, in Group B, kick off their Afcon campaign with a match against Algeria on Sunday before taking on Tunisia on Thursday and will conclude their group matches against Senegal four days later.