The Sunday News
Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
THE mission was accomplished in Francistown last Thursday when the Warriors defeated the determined Zebras of Botswana to book a place at next year’s Africa of Nations football showcase in Cameroon.
A Perfect Chikwende-header in the 14th minute was all Zimbabwe needed to subdue Botswana and qualify for a third consecutive appearance at Africa’s biggest football event. It was Chikwende’s first goal for the senior national team in his senior national team debut.
On a day of firsts, coach Zdravko Logarusic became the only foreigner in charge of Zimbabwe when they qualified for the Afcon. Before the Croatian, Sunday Chidzambwa, Charles Mhlauri and Callisto Pasuwa had guided the Warriors to the tournament.
That victory against Botswana was achieved without key players such as Marvelous Nakamba, Divine Lunga, Khama Billiat, Prince Dube, Tinotenda Kadewere and Marshall Munetsi shows the fighting spirit that is in the rest of the team.
Billiat, Dube and Lunga are injured while Nakamba, Munetsi as well as Kadewere could not make it due to a requirement for them to go into quarantine for some days when they return to their European bases, which would have seen them miss matches for their respective clubs.
Zambia-based goalkeeper Talbert Shumba continued to cement his place as the country’s number one man in between the sticks with some crucial saves. The defence, made up of Jimmy Dzingai, Teenage Hadebe, Gilroy Chimwemwe and Onismor Bhasera was solid each time the Zebras launched attack after attack after conceding but found the Zimbabweans unyielding. Veteran midfielder Thabani Kamusoko put up a solid display, combined well with skipper Knowledge Musona and Ovidy Karuru.
Efforts by the host federation to frustrate the Warriors did not yield any results for the Batswana who were left counting the costs of having the Zebras in camp for months in the build to the matches against Zimbabwe and Algeria.
Now Botswana have headed to North Africa just to fulfil a fixture since they have no interest in the qualification, with the Dessert Foxes and the Warriors heading to Cameroon. The Warriors were not allowed to warm up since coronavirus tests conducted on the Zimbabwean delegation were still not available when the team arrived at the Obed Itani Chilume Stadium. In the end, it was only yet to be capped Spain based goalkeeper Martin Mapisa whose test was said to be inconclusive and he had to watch the match from the terraces.
The qualification journey started in November 2019 when Zimbabwe were held to a goalless draw by Botswana at the National Sports Stadium. Four days later a Billiat brace handed Zimbabwe a 2-0 win over Zambia in Lusaka.
When the qualifiers resumed in November last year, Zimbabwe were beaten 3-1 by Algeria away and then drew the home fixture 2-2 at the NSS. Musona and Prince Dube were on target for Zimbabwe as they earned a crucial draw.
Tomorrow, the Warriors complete the qualifiers when they face off against Chipolopolo at the NSS. Zimbabwe have no pressure having already booked a ticket to Cameroon. Logarusic had even hinted at sending the South Africa and Zambia based players back to their clubs so as to give younger players an opportunity. However, no player has been released from camp and the Warriors trained at the match venue under floodlights last night. — @Mdawini_29