Zimbabwe Under-23 national soccer side, the Young Warriors preparations for the make or break Zone VI All-Africa Games first round, second leg qualifier against neighbours Botswana at Rufaro Stadium on Sunday received a major setback after it emerged on Wednesday that striker Mathew Rusike might not make it for the match.
Team manager Wellington Mpandare revealed to NewsDay Sport that Jomo Cosmos are reluctant to release the lanky striker and by late on Wednesday the Jomo Sono-owned club had not responded to the pleas from the Young Warriors technical team.
Zimbabwe is going into the match with what looks like a comfortable two away goals after drawing 2-2 with the Young Zebras in the first leg and they will now fancy their chances in front of the home crowd.
Simba Sithole and Denver Mukamba grabbed the two goals for Zimbabwe in Gaborone.
However, the Young Warriors’ preparations for the crucial tie has not been ideal as the team only regrouped on Thursday, just three days before the match day.
This is in sharp contrast to their opponents who did not break camp after the first-leg encounter.
The news on striker Rusike, who had been expected to fill in the void left by the suspended Mukamba, would likely weigh heavily on the already depressed squad.
The team will also miss the creative flair of Archford Gutu who, like Mukamba was red carded in the first leg.
“I spoke to Jomo Cosmos manager on Wednesday (Tuesday) and he said they want to use Rusike for their Sunday match. He told me he will talk to Jomo Sono over the issue but as for now we have not received any response from them,” said Mpandare late on Wednesday.
“In the event that he won’t make it, we just hope that the guys who are coming in will fit in well. That is the reason why we called in 28 players into camp so that we can have a wide range to look at,” added Mpandare.
Reading star Trevor Mutero, who finished as the country’s top goal scorer in the just ended Metropolitan Super Cup in South Africa with an impressive six goals from seven games, including one in the 2-0 final win against Pretoria University, is likely to be rewarded for that stellar performance and partner Caps United forward Sithole in the Friday Phiri-preferred two man attack.
“He did exceptionally well in South Africa, we just hope he will carry that form into the Under-23 team,” said Mpandare.
Chicken Inn midfielder Morris Kadzola, who was also outstanding for the Under-20 in South Africa has been included in the already bloated squad.
The now 28-man squad is expected to be trimmed on Friday morning.
Meanwhile, the Young Zebras were expected into the country on Wednesday ahead of the tie and would be hoping to upset the Young Warriors in front of home fans.