When he was unveiled as the Warriors head coach in February, he had but just over a month to wait for his first competitive match against African champions Algeria. But he was made to wait, perhaps longer than he or even anyone else imagined, when football was forced into an unprecedented hiatus by covid-19. The break was that long that he had to escape the monotony of national lockdown by going back home to Croatia for three months.
His wait for a competitive match ended on a 12 November night in Algiers, albeit on a losing but qualitatively encouraging note. Despite glimpses of promise from his Warriors team on the night, nervous moments in the offensive and defensive areas saw his team fall 1-3 to an Algerian team that had collected 6 points from two Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers against Zambia (5-0) and Botswana (1-0).
In that moment of momentary defeat, Logarušic became optimistic of producing something better in the next game, only 4 days away.
“After seeing them live that night, I knew that we could compete against Algeria. It was different from seeing their highlights showing only the good moments,” he said.
Logarušic did not sleep much during the 8-hour 30 minutes flight back home, so did his assistants Lloyd Chitembwe and Tonderai Ndiraya. The three technocrats had all seen a chink in the Desert Foxes’ shining armour, and now they had to find a way of getting their trojan horse in there.
“I now had an idea of my team and how we can play. Before the first game, I had had only a one-hour training session with the full team. The game opened my eyes,” Logarušic said.
On the eve of the home tie, the coach revealed that he wished his team would play with gusto just like they had done after the interval in Algiers. There was optimism in his voice, uncharacteristic for a coach of a team that had lost a match just 3 days back. He had surely drawn positives from the loss.
“I want the team to play with confidence like we did in the second half [in Algiers], and if we take our chances, we will get a good result,” he said.
Trailing 0-2 at 38 minutes, it all looked like we were heading for yet another crushing defeat, but a wonder-freekick goal from captain Knowledge Musona on 42 minutes started what turned out to be a remarkable comeback. Prince Dube equalised with his first touch on 82 minutes off a Divine Lunga header across goal.
Having started without regulars Khama Billiat, Ovidy Karuru and Divine Lunga, Logarušic introduced the trio, together with speedy Kudakwashe Mahachi at the beginning of the second half. That marked the end of Adam Chicksen’s frustrating competitive debut and David Moyo’s full debut. Also withdrawn were Tafadzwa Rusike and Jordan Zemura who was playing only his second match for the Warriors.
“We do not have a starting 11. We have a starting 22. Each player I call up should be ready to start. I also have to assess more players during competitive situations,” Logarušic explained the rationale behind the first eleven and the substitutions he made.
While we remain second in Group H with 5 points, 1 ahead of our next opponent Botswana, Algeria qualified for the 2021 finals with 10 points. The fight for second place and a place at the Cameroon 2021 finals resumes in March 2021, and again we will start with a trip to Botswana before the home finale against Zambia, in one week.
“I now know my players, but the only problem can be how quickly they understand what I want them to do in order to become a better team. With more time and preparation, we can continue to improve. He had one training session with the full team before the first game, two before the second one, and the improvement was there for all Warriors fans to see and perhaps believe. In the two matches against Algeria, the three goals scored by Tinotenda Kadewere, Musona & Dube were the first three that the reigning champions conceded.