Will returning Sunday Chidzambwa be a success with Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe coach Sunday Chidzambwa. Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

Sunday 'Mhofu' Chidzambwa is by far Zimbabwe's most successful coach, but the one-year performance-based contract he has been handed on his return to the Warriors dugout hints at the persisting doubts about his suitability for the post.

However, the 65-year-old now has a great opportunity to silence his detractors as he looks to take Zimbabwe to the Africa Cup of Nations nearly one and half decades after masterminding the team's maiden qualification for the biennial event.

Chidzambwa takes charge of the national side at moment of great significance, with Zimbabwe desperate to break free of prolonged spells of underachievement to become regulars at the continent's premier football festival.

Zimbabwe are pooled alongside the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville and Liberia in the race to qualify for the tournament in Cameroon.

Having missed out on the World Cup qualifiers, reaching the 2019 AFCON is imperative for Zimbabwe if a promising generation headlined by the likes Knowledge Musona, Marvelous Nakamba and Khama Billiat are to continue evolving into a more cohesive unit and ultimately realise their collective potential.

Up until June, Chidzambwa was in charge on a caretaker basis as Zimbabwe overcame some underwhelming preparations to win a record fifth COSAFA Cup crown in some style. That achievement no doubt played a huge role in swaying ZIFA to hand him the job on a permanent basis.

However, if the COSAFA campaign portrayed Chidzambwa at his glorious best as he reorganised a bunch of average players to perform beyond their natural limitations, then the subsequent capitulation to Namibia during the CHAN qualifiers provided a timely reminder of just how his flawed judgement can prove costly when it matters most.

That judgement will come under scrutiny yet again as he goes about reconstituting the Warriors after a disappointing showing at the Nations Cup in Gabon in January.

Arguably, his glittering CV has helped ZIFA overlook his more recent sub-par showings and give him the benefit of the doubt.

Apart from the famous qualification to the Nations Cup in 2004, he has three COSAFA Cup titles to his name, along with another three championships with Dynamos.

Furthermore, in 1998 he took a decidedly average Dynamos team to the finals of the CAF Champions League during a run which was yet further evidence of his unique ability to conjure up the improbable.

Curiously though, Chidzambwa has not enjoyed much success since his 2004 milestone with the Warriors, with his two-and-half-year stint at local side ZPC Kariba having ended recently under somewhat acrimonious circumstances.

Regardless of the concerns, he has reason to relish his new challenge, informing The Herald newspaper recently of his gratitude at being asked to reunite with the nation's most popular sports team.

"I want to do my best to make sure that we qualify for the next AFCON finals," Chidzambwa vowed. "Of course our group is not a walkover, it's tough...We expect tough opposition along the way but we have to fight tooth and nail to get to the promised land. It's possible. We need to continue working hard."

Zimbabwe have made two more AFCON appearances since their 2004 debut, the last of which was at the Gabon finals last January under Calisto Pasuwa.

For his part, Pasuwa realised just how easily one can turn from hero to zero in the Zimbabwe dugout as he got shoved through the exit door just months after attaining demigod status after taking Zim back to the continental top table.

Chidzambwa is all too familiar with the perils which come with the portfolio.

He will however be relieved to start from a position of strength, with the team having kicked off their campaign for a spot at the 2019 tournament with an impressive 3-0 win at home to Liberia in June.

He will also enjoy enough time to find his bearings before the qualifiers resume next September. Once the action begins though, there will be no let up, as Zimbabwe, ranked 103 in the world by FIFA, push for a top-two finish which would guarantee a second consecutive qualification.

DR Congo, with a FIFA World ranking of 36, are favourites to top Group G, and the battle for second-place should pit Zimbabwe against a Congo-Brazzaville team who recently took a point from Ghana during the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Ranked 96th by FIFA, the 1972 African champions have managed just one win in their last 17 international matches in all competitions.

Yet they have the capacity to cause problems for a Zimbabwe team who are yet to really regroup since January's AFCON campaign.

ZIFA's procrastination on the appointment of a permanent coach has not helped a team in desperate need of some extensive renovations at the back.

In fact, Chidzambwa will need to come up with an almost entirely new defensive line, while a replacement for retired midfield anchor Willard Katsande also needs to be found.

In Gabon, the team was also hamstrung by the absence of a natural midfield playmaker and a reliable centre-forward, and while Chidzambwa has expressed his eagerness to delve into the Diaspora talent to broaden his talent base, it remains to be seen whether he can find such coveted assets.

Beyond the potential troubles off the field, he will have to win over a supporter base who aren't entirely convinced by his quality.

Few will have forgotten that this is the man who curiously dropped a fledging Knowledge Musona from his squad for the 2009 CHAN finals during a brief return to the Warriors dugout, preferring Clive Kawinga instead.

Before the end of that year, Musona was setting the scene alight at Soweto giants Kaiser Chiefs while Kawinga has continued to hop from one club to another, struggling to make an impression.

More than a few observers were also riled over the omission of 20-year-old former Bantu Rovers forward Bukhosi Sibanda from this year's COSAFA cup squad despite his ten goals in 11 matches at the time.

Chidzambwa, however, attributes any criticism of his team selection to differences in opinion, and Zimbabwe must wait to see if his own opinion will be good enough to win the day this time around.