YOUNG Warriors preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympics went a gear up when they put a spirited performance in a 2-1 loss to a very experienced Morocco side in an international football friendly in Agadir on Sunday, with the foreign-based players particularly impressive.
Zimbabweans named an U-23s side for the match, as the country brace itself for the Rio qualifiers which begin next April.
To qualify for the Olympics, the Young Warriors will have to finish in the top three at the 2015 DR Congo Under-23 African Championships.
They are part of 12 teams that will go through the first round qualifiers of the DR Congo Championships where they would face Swaziland.
If they manage to progress to the next stage, they will face neighbours South Africa before the third and final qualifying round where Senegal lie in waiting.
Third-round winners will proceed with hosts Democratic Republic of Congo to the December 5 to 19 2015 finals, from where the top three finishers will head to Brazil.
To prepare for what appears to be a daunting task ahead, the Young Warriors have been playing internationals, starting with Botswana and then Swaziland before the Sunday’s trip to Rabat.
For the first two matches, the Young Warriors used only local based players but decided to have a look at the foreign based players against Morocco.
Mamelodi Sundowns star Kuda Mahachi and Dutch based Marvellous Nakamba were called for the tie although they could not make it due to visa complications.
That left the England based duo of Colchester United forward Macauley Bonne and Northampton striker David Moyo as the only two foreign based in the starting eleven, for their first ever national team caps with the former particularly impressing on his debut.
Macauley played the full ninety minutes and capped that display with a goal after 19 minutes.
According to reports, he had already gone close on 12 minutes, picking the ball up and driving towards goal, forcing the Moroccan keeper into a good save low at his near post.
Six minutes later, he grabbed the goal to put the visitors in front. Anticipating a miscued header from the defender, he took the ball down and calmly drilled through the legs of the Moroccan keeper to make it 1-0.
Playing at their home State Adrar stadium in Agadir, Morocco, who had fielded a number of Europe based professionals internationals including Mourane Chamakh and Stoke City’s winger Oussama Assaidi, were to go on to have most of the pressure and they forced the Young Warriors goalkeeper Bernard Donovan into a fine full length save with an acrobatic overhead kick on 30 minutes.
Zimbabwe took their lead into the interval, but the hosts, who were recently stripped off rights to host the upcoming African Cup of Nations, levelled on 64 minutes.
A well crafted move saw the ball fed to Oussama Assaidi who bent home a fine finish to make it 1-1.
They then took the lead with fourteen minutes to go when Mouhcine Iajour placed a penalty just inside the post.
Zimbabwe were not finished just yet though, and with three minutes to go, Macauley smacked in a shot that fizzed past the upright.
Despite five minutes of injury time, the home side preserved their lead, but Macauley will be pleased to have notched a goal on his first appearance for his country.
Young Warriors starting XI: Bernard Donovan, Blessing Moyo, Ronald Pfumbidzai, Douglas Sibanda, Teenage Hadebe, Charles Mukanhairi, Carlos Rusere, Pritchard Mphelele, David Moyo, Gabriel Nyoni, Macauley Bonne.