BY EVANS MATHANDA
“Go warriors Go” a supporting statement that is meant to give energy to Zimbabwe’s national football team whenever they are playing or scheduled to face other teams.
The Warriors’ theme song became very popular in 2006 the second time Zimbabwe qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament. Afcon 2022 is set to run from January 9 to February 6 and debate rages on which team will bag the ultimate prize.
The tournament draws its curtains with Cameroon taking on Burkina Faso in their opening Group A fixture at Stade Omnisport Paul Biya, Olembe in Yaounde on January 9.
The Warriors will play against Senegal in their first match at the tournament on January 10 before facing Malawi (The Flames) in their next game four days later. They will round off their first round with a match against Guinea on January 18.
The tournament was originally scheduled to run between June and July 2021, but the Confederation of African Football (CAF) changed that due to unfavorable climatic conditions during the period.
This will be Zimbabwe’s fifth appearance at the tournament after featuring in 2004, 2006, 2017 and 2019 editions. Since 2017, Zimbabwe featured at the tournament three times continuously.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe will this year go without a good number of its key players, a development that has left warriors supporters and football fanatics worried.
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Former Warriors star Khama Billiat hung up his boots a day after he wore the captain’s armband in a Fifa World Cup qualifier match against Ethiopia at the National Sports Stadium, where they played a one-all draw. His decision confused many people after he announced on his Twitter account, with many saying he should have retired from the national team after the 2022 Afcon tournament.
Zifa is said to be still negotiating with Billiat, trying to convince him to be part of Afcon — if it will be his last dance with the warriors. Whether or not the striker will change his mind and come to join the party, we wait to see.
With Warrior’s midfielder Marvelous Nakamba ruled out of Afcon 2021 finals, the national team might face tough times in Cameroon next month. Nakamba underwent an operation that may keep him out of the game for about 12 weeks, after sustaining a knee injury in Aston Villa’s 1-0 defeat to Liverpool recently. Besides Nakamba and Billiat, a host of other Warriors stars will not feature at the tournament for different reasons.
For that reason, five new players last week were called to join the Warriors squad and coach Norman Mapeza drafted them into the provisional selection for the Afcon 2021 finals.
The five players who recently join the main squad include the following:
Right-back Tapiwa Sibanda (Cranborne Bullets) who was called up after some impressive performances this season, Temptation Chiunga, a South Africa-based midfielder who has been starting in almost every match at JDR Stars division one club and Panashe Mutimbanyoka (FC Platinum) who was once named for the Cosafa Cup and Shepherd Mhlanga of Chicken Inn.
Frank Makarati, a Dynamos defender who featured in the Warriors’ second-tier team in the CHAN games which are restricted to locally-based players only, is also among the provisional squad for the Afcon finals.
The team went into camp last week on December 23 in Harare and the final selection will be announced on December 31.
However, despite the presence of international players like Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat, Tendai Darikwa and former Warriors captain Willard Katsande popularly known as Boss Ya Mboka, Warriors have been knocked out of the tournament at group stages all the time they appeared in the tournament.
In 2006, former warriors coach Charles Mhlauri’s 2-1 victory against Ghana’s Black Stars remains Zimbabwe’s most celebrated game as far as Afcon tournament is concerned. Former Warriors striker Benjani Mwaruwaru scored the second goal in 68 minutes after Ghana’s own goal from Issah Gabriel Ahmed making it 2-1.
The Warriors have been frustrated several times by the Zifa board. A classic example is the 2019 Afcon tournament held in Egypt when Zifa failed to pay the players appearance fees as per agreement.
In an interview, Warriors skipper Knowledge Musona said his team mates were tired of Zifa board members who always negotiated in bad faith before and during the tournament.
Zifa needs to treat Warriors with dignity in order to get players to give their all. Lack of planning by Zifa remains a threat to Zimbabwe’s football. At times, it’s not always about having enough resources, but making sound plans helps, even with little resources.
Last week, the world football governing board Fifa gave the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) an ultimatum up to January 3 to reverse the suspension of Zifa board or to face the consequences that include being banned from taking part in the upcoming 2022 Afcon finals.
As we wait for SRC to decide, I say best wishes to the Warriors squad.
Go warriors Go!
- Evans Mathanda is a journalist and development practitioner who writes in his personal capacity. For feedback email: [email protected] or call 0719770038 and Twitter @EvansMathanda19