BY TAWANDA TAFIRENYIKA
WARRIORS coach Joey Antipas is leaving no stone unturned in his bid to qualify Zimbabwe to their maiden World Cup final as well as the 2021 African Cup of Nations (Afcon), saying he would fuse the team with some of the players who have not played for the national team before to beef up the squad.
The Warriors, missing some of the regulars, who include skipper Knowledge Musona, were unconvincing against lowly rated Somalia earlier this week, and were on the brink of a humiliating exit from the qualifiers of the global soccer showcase.
While they managed to scrape through in the end with a 3-1 victory against the minnows with a late flurry of goals for a 3-2 aggregate win, Antipas believes that there is room for improvement.
“What I have to say is that the main thing was to qualify for the group stages and when the group stages come up, one thing that I know is that this team will improve because they have not been working together. We just had two training sessions and I think they adapted quickly to the way we wanted them to play,” he said.
The Warriors coach said he had been given the greenlight by Zifa to choose players of his choice and would do everything in his power to bring some of the best players to strengthen the side, including striker Macauley Bonne, who plays for Championship side Charlton Athletic.
“With the blessing of Zifa to bring more players from England, I believe that the team will be a very strong side,” Antipas said.
Bonne is one of a number of players born to Zimbabwean parents, but does not hold a Zimbabwean passport to enable him to feature for the national team.
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He featured once in a friendly against Morocco and scored his debut goal in 2014.
The striker sent his documents to Zimbabwe for processing earlier this year, but the process took long and he was eventually overlooked from the squad which represented the country at the 2019 Afcon in Egypt.
Tendai Darikwa, who plays for Championship club Nottingham Forest, and Leicester City forward Admiral Muskwe were born in England, but have since secured Zimbabwean passports and are already playing for the Warriors.
Antipas has been forced to look for players with Zimbabwean links dotted across Europe after he watched his side struggle to break down a stubborn Somalia side in a decisive World Cup preliminary round second leg qualifier at the National Sports Stadium on Tuesday before Khama Billiat saved the day with a beautiful strike at the death to win the match 3-1.
His goal ensured Zimbabwe progressed to the group stage of the qualifiers after Marshall Munetsi (77) and Knox Mutizwa (87) had scored a goal each.
With Somalia going into the match leading 1-0 from the first leg and equalising through forward Omali Abduli on 85 minutes, it meant the home team needed to score two more goals to progress.
And these came from Mutizwa and Billiat, who profited from a pass by the former. Billiat then danced past one man before finding the far right corner in two minutes of referee’s optional time.
Antipas will need all the best players at his disposal as his team has crucial international fixtures coming up before the end of the year.
In November, Zimbabwe will kick-start their 2021 Afcon qualifying campaign with a clash against neighbours Botswana.
The Warriors are in Group H, alongside Botswana, reigning African champions Algeria and another neighbour Zambia, and the top teams in the group will qualify to the finals to be held in Cameroon.