BY HENRY MHARA
CHINA-based Warriors star striker Nyasha Mushekwi is set to bounce back into the senior national football team, and could be one of the team’s major inclusions when coach Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambga picks his squad for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals.
Mushekwi has not played for Zimbabwe since the 2017 Afcon finals in Gabon, with reports suggesting that there was bad blood between him and a certain prominent official in the previous Zifa administration led by Philip Chiyangwa.
He had vowed never to play again for the Warriors under the previous administration, which was toppled in December last year.
The official line though from Zifa was that the striker’s exclusion from the Warriors set-up was due to an injury he was supposedly carrying, although he continued to feature regularly for his Chinese Super league club Dalian Yifang.
Since there is a new leadership running football in the country, it appears the big forward is ready to return to the national team, and could be one of the few players who did not feature in the Afcon qualifiers, but will be added to the final squad when Chidzambga announces his squad for the finals.
The Afcon finals will be held from June 21 to July 19 in Egypt, and the Warriors will know their opponents at the tournament when the draw is made in Cairo on Friday.
Warriors manager Wellington Mupandare yesterday said Mushekwi had made himself available for selection, and he would be considered “just like everyone else”.
“Nyasha Mushekwi had an injury as far as I know. He has fully recovered and we have been monitoring him, just like we are doing (with) every Zimbabwean professional footballer, with the aim of selecting the (best) squad to represent the country at the Afcon finals,” Mupandare said.
“He is currently doing well, and I have been in contact with him. He is available for selection, and he is part of the players who will be considered. He has a chance, just like everyone else.”
Speaking last month to our sister publication, The Standard, Mushekwi said he would accept an invitation to play for the Warriors.
“The issue of the Warriors is a sensitive topic, but as long as I can run, I’ll always love to represent my country, just (like) the way things happened the last time. I don’t know if I’ll get another call up,” he said.
Mushekwi has played two of the club’s four matches this season, opening his scoring account in a 2-1 home loss to Tianjin Teda on Sunday.
Last season, he scored 15 goals in 20 appearances for the club.
The 31-year-old player will be hoping to hit top form and convince Chidzambga to pick him in the final squad, where he would be competing for places with the likes of Evans Rusike, Tino Kadewere, Knox Mutizwa, Admiral Muskwe and British-born Macauley Bonne who has started the process of acquiring a Zimbabwean passport so that he can be eligible to play for the Warriors.
Mushekwi was the first choice striker for the Warriors when they last featured at the Afcon finals in Gabon two years ago.
He was later banned (not officially though) from the Warriors by Zifa after he was fingered as one of the instigators of a revolt over non-payment of qualifying allowances and bonuses that saw players snubbing a send-off dinner that had President Emmerson Mnangagwa as the guest of honour, just before the team’s departure for the Gabon finals.
The Warriors missed their first flight to Gabon, as players insisted on getting their bonuses first, and only agreed to travel after thrashing out a payment plan with the association.
While the quartet were allowed to play at the tournament, where they all featured prominently, Zifa later ordered then coach Norman Mapeza not to include them in future national team assignments.
But his close associates claim that his problems with Zifa were beyond the dinner snub fiasco.
It was claimed that Mushekwi didn’t see eye-to-eye with one of the prominent Zifa figures because of the striker’s ex-wife.
Meanwhile, Mupandare has also assured other players that did not participate in the successful qualification for the team to the finals, that the door is still open and they could still force their way into contention for a place in the squad for Egypt.
One of those players is Czech Republic-based defender Costa Nhamoinesu.
“Costa did not participate in the campaign, but is still under consideration. He is playing regularly for his club and if he continues to do well, he will be considered. The door is still open and there are a lot of players that we are planning to engage, including Andy Rinomhota of Reading and Arsenal’s Reiss Nelson,” the Warriors manager said.
Mupandare and Chidzambga left the country for Cairo yesterday ahead of the Afcon draw on Friday.