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The deafening silence that follows the end of the Premiership season on the sports scene is a big testament to the sweeping argument that Z...

The deafening silence that follows the end of the Premiership season on the sports scene is a big testament to the sweeping argument that Zimbabwe is not entirely a sporting country, but a football crazy nation.

When football stops, virtually everything in local sport seems to stop and when football performs well the nation is up on its feet. As if to buttress that argument, 2016 has been the year of football with the country’s flagship team the Warriors and the Women’s side the Mighty Warriors scoring big on the international stage.

True to their status as the country’s flagship team, the Warriors, who are currently preparing for the African Cup of Nations in Gabon next month, led the way for sport in 2016, as they qualified for the continental soccer showcase with a game to spare in June.

Coach Callisto Pasuwa and his charges also became the only team from Southern Africa to secure a place among the 16 finalists at the competition. This will be their third appearance after qualifying for the 2004 and 2006 editions. But this time they did it in style in Group L that also included favourites Guinea, Swaziland and Malawi.
Zimbabwean Swimming Legend Calls it a Day 

It was also the year that Mighty Warriors participated at the Olympic Games for the first time. The Mighty Warriors also became the second sport team from Zimbabwe to participate at the Olympics.

Until 2016, hockey’s Golden Girls, who were at the Moscow Games in Russia in 1980, had been the only sport team to represent Zimbabwe. The Mighty Warriors also made it among the eight teams that took part at the Africa Women’s Nations Cup in Cameroon last month.

Sometimes the beauty on the pitch covered up the little blemishes that permeated the game via the boardroom. The Mighty Warriors’ accomplishments were not commensurate with their preparations as financial challenges remained a big hurdle.

Despite struggling at the tournament skipper Talent Mandaza and her troops had charmed the nation with their achievements in the year under review. The team could not replicate their form in the qualifiers as they failed dismally at the big stage.

Football was also scoring big at individual level with Khama Billiat sweeping all the major accolades in South Africa where he was crowned the ABSA Premiership player of the Year. ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa added to football’s memorable year with his stunning election as the COSAFA president for the next five years.

But on an individual scale there is no doubt that Billiat was the King of 2016 with CAPS United right back Hardlife Zvirekwi the Prince. Billiat could next Friday seal his place in history, if as largely expected, he is named the CAF African Footballers of the Year.

The Mamelodi Sundowns star must now shake off the challenges of his club-mate and Ugandan goalkeeper Denis Onyango and Zambian captain Rainford Kalaba of TP Mazembe for the ultimate prize.

Billiat’s awards came after he had helped the Sundowns snatch the league title away from rivals Kaizer Chiefs in style, scoring 12 league goals and bagged 20 assists in all competitions in the last season.

Back home, Zvirekwi ruled the roost as he defied odds to win the coveted Castle Soccer Star of the Year accolade for the first time after leading Makepekepe to their first title in 11 years. He was also probably one of the few local players who shone brilliantly both for club and country.

While football ruled the roost, boxing finally rose from its slumber nearly two decades after Zvenyika “Mosquito’’ Arifonso hogged the limelight by winning the Commonwealth flyweight title.

Zimbabwe’s golden boy Charles Manyuchi turned on a boxing masterclass when he became the new WBC Welterweight Silver champion. The 26-year-old bashed Russian Dmitry Mikhaylenko in his own backyard in May, via a unanimous decision to grab the title that was once held by Briton Amir Khan.

Manyuchi, in his homecoming show in October, then knocked out Colombian Jose Agustin Julio Feria in just 2 minutes and 42 seconds in a World Boxing Council sanctioned non-title fight. This was his first fight in front of his Zimbabwean fans since he gained world acclaim and he did not disappoint.

The 26-year-old pugilist produced a devastating and stylish performance to knock out the Colombian in the first round after catching him with a devilish uppercut that sent him tumbling to the canvas.

His performance won the plaudits of dignitaries who included Vice Presidents Emmerson Mnangangwa and Phelekezela Mphoko. The year under review will also be recalled as the one that Kirsty Coventry finally called time on a glittering swimming career.

Zimbabwe’s Golden Girl decided to leave the pool after the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Sadly, she had to leave on a low note as she could not pick any medal. With seven Olympic medals in the bag, Coventry is the most decorated Olympian from Africa. Apart from various other awards she has won in her career spanning nearly two decades.

Rugby in Zimbabwe has been on free-fall in 2016 both on and off the pitch. The flagship team — the Sables’ bid to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan suffered another major setback following disappointing performances in the Africa Cup campaign this year.

The Sables could have been demoted from the elite Group A1 after finishing last in a the group that also included Uganda, Kenya and Namibia, but they got a silver lining with the resolution not to demote and promote two teams from Group 1B.

Zimbabwe cricket were their usual selves, promising much, but short on delivering. It has been another disappointing year for Zimbabwe all round starting with that disappointing series defeat by Afghanistan in January and then the disappointment at the World T20 where they crashed out in the preliminary round.

Like they have become used to, the Chevrons had a lean menu this year as games were few and spread apart. They hosted New Zealand and India and then closed with a Tri-series featuring Sri Lanka and West Indies. The appointment of former captain Heath Streak was welcomed, but results continued to dodge them.

The domestic game was littered with many glitches arising mostly from the association’s poor finances as players were involved in numerous boycotts. It was a bad year for the Zimbabwe Davis Cup team as they were relegated to Africa Zone Group Three after spending two years in Euro-Africa Zone Group Two.

The team lost to Georgia after they blew a 2-1 lead to lose 3-2 in Tbilisi. Zimbabwe were missing top-ranked player Takanyi Garanganga, who had other commitments in the US where he is based. The Zimbabwe Under-21 Women’s Hockey team made history in November when they qualified for the 2016 World Cup.

The juniors joined South Africa after a nail-biting semi-final of the Under-21 Africa Junior World Cup Qualifiers, where they beat Namibia 2-1, ending the host’s dream. But as the door closes on 2016, it is Chiyangwa and the football fraternity that he leads that have every reason to party. - The Herald

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