BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
THE Warriors’ preparations for the 2019 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals to be staged in Egypt next month have been dealt a blow after Angola withdrew from the regional Cosafa tournament at the last minute.
Angola’s withdrawal is another drawback for the Warriors, who will only play one preparatory match outside the Cosafa tournament, with plans for a friendly against Morocco having also hit a brick wall.
The Warriors had been banking on Angola, one of the strongest teams in the region, to give them a good practice match ahead of the continental soccer showcase.
Zimbabwe are looking to use the regional Cosafa tournament as a dress rehearsal for the Egypt tournament, but the withdrawal of Angola, who were in Group A, has weakened the opposition the Warriors will face in South Africa.
Angola were favoured to top Group A of the Cosafa tournament to set up a quarterfinal clash with the Warriors.
However, the latest development means Zimbabwe will play either eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), Mauritius or Comoros Islands, which is hardly the kind of competition they require to prepare for Africa’s premier competition.
Cosafa said, in a statement yesterday, Angola had withdrawn from the Cosafa tournament to complete their league season as well as prepare for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
“Cosafa regrets to announce the withdrawal of Angola from the 2019 Cosafa Cup with the Palancas Negras citing the need to complete their league season and preparations for the Africa Cup of Nations as the reasons,” the regional football body said.
The short notice has placed Cosafa Cup organisers in a tight spot, and despite canvassing far and wide across the continent for a replacement, the timeframe simply did not allow for a new participant, with the tournament getting under way in Durban this weekend.
The change has also forced a revision of the fixtures list, with the Cosafa Cup now to kick-off with a clash between eSwatini and Mauritius at the King Zwelithini Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 4:30pm).
Three-time winners Angola have missed two previous Cosafa Cup tournaments — the very first one in 1997 and the 2015 edition.
Of the five nations that qualified for the 2019 Afcon finals, only three will participate at the Cosafa tournament.
On those five, only Zimbabwe are sending a strong squad to the regional tournament, with Namibia sending a reserve side, while South Africa will field their Under-23 side.
Sunday Chidzambga’s men are scheduled to play two matches at the tournament, after which 18 players will leave for a final preparatory match against the Super Eagles of Nigeria in Lagos on June 8, while the rest will remain in South Africa to see off the Cosafa tournament, depending on progress.
After the Cosafa tournament, five players, who include strikers Nyasha Mushekwi and Macauley Bonne, will join the rest of the squad in Nigeria.
The Warriors started training yesterday, with several foreign and home-based players, including goalkeepers George Chigova, Edmore Sibanda, Talbert Shumba as well as Lawrence Mhlanga, Byron Madzokere, Devine Lunga, Ronald Pfumbidzai, Danny Phiri, Butholezwe Ncube, Ovidy Karuru, Richard Hachiro, Talent Chawapihwa, Leeroy Mavhunga, Thabani Kamusoko, Evans Rusike, Tino Kadewere and Knox Mtizwa having all joined camp on Monday.
Others players, including skipper Knowledge Musona, are still at their bases sorting out issues with their respective clubs, but are expected to link up with the rest of the team before the start of the tournament.
Zifa have been battling to secure another high-profile international friendly before Afcon for the Warriors, but that has failed to materialise.
Said Zifa president Felton Kamambo: “We were engaging one of the top 10 countries in Africa, but it looks like that match would not be able to take place. We were organising a match with Morocco for the 25th, but they are taking time to respond, and that is off now. We will settle for the Nigeria match only, and then we go and camp in Egypt.”
That means the Warriors, who kick-off the campaign with a clash against the hosts on June 21, will have a longer training camp in the host country as they are scheduled to fly straight to Egypt after the international friendly against Nigeria.