BY HENRY MHARA
THE Mighty Warriors will this afternoon begin their quest for qualification to next year’s Africa Women Cup of Nations (Awcon) finals when they host eSwatini at the National Sports Stadium in the first round first leg match.
This tournament was supposed to have been played last year, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zimbabwe will be looking to make a return to the finals which they last featured in the 2016 edition in Cameroon.
Next year’s tournament will be held in Morocco and for the first time in its history, will feature 12 teams from the previous eight.
The addition of participating teams at the finals will obviously give teams such as the Mighty Warriors a chance to qualify.
They also have, on paper, what looks like an easy passage to their qualification prospects.
With all due respect to eSwatini, they are one of the weakest teams in the region and the Mighty Warriors should not have any problem in dispatching them in the two legs.
The return match is on Tuesday next week.
eSwatini were one of the whipping sides at the Cosafa tournament that was held last month, losing all their three group matches and conceding a staggering 11 goals in the process.
Zimbabwe on the other hand, narrowly missed the semi-final spot by goal difference.
Head-to-head statistics between the two teams also show that the Mighty Warriors have never lost to eSwatini.
But coach Sithethelwe “Kwinji 15” Sibanda is warning against complacency.
“We have played against them in the past and managed to beat them, but they have their strengths. So we have to approach them with a right mindset,”Sibanda said.
The host will be without star striker Rutendo Makore for the two matches after she picked an injury in the Cosafa tournament.
Also unavailable today is winger Mavis Chirandu and Talent Mungwanda who asked for compassionate leave.
But Sibanda still has enough arsenal to win the match with mainstays such as Rudo Neshamba, Merjury Nyaumwe and Sheila Makoto set to carry the day for the team.
If the Mighty Warriors win the two-legged affair as is hugely expected, they will face the winner between Angola and Botswana in the second and final qualifying stage.
Zimbabwe played against Botswana at the Cosafa tournament and won 3-0.
Angola is also a beatable opponent and whoever win this contest, Sibanda and her girls will still fancy their chances of winning and progressing to the qualifiers.
The Mighty Warriors would be looking to make amends for missing the 2018 edition after they lost to Zambia in the last qualifying round on away goals rule.
Next year’s Awcon tournament will also double as the African qualifiers to the 2023 Fifa Women’s World
The top four teams will qualify for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and two more teams will advance to the inter-confederation play-offs with a chance to qualify to the World Cup.
Follow Henry on Twitter @henrymhara