WARRIORS coach Callisto Pasuwa has warned his players to brace for a tough ride at the COSAFA tournament in Namibia where Zimbabwe are likely to be the team to beat following a good run of results in international assignments
The Zimbabwe national soccer team left for Namibia yesterday with a squad comprising 20 players, most of whom are locally-based. Only Charlton Mashumba of Jomo Cosmos is the foreign-based player in the squad.
The COSAFA tournament comes against the backdrop of a brilliant run by Zimbabwe in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. The Warriors have just sealed their place at next year’s edition of the continental football tournament to be held in Gabon after thrashing Malawi 3-0 and Swaziland 4-0 in their last two matches at home.
But while everyone was in high spirits ahead of departure, Pasuwa was a bit apprehensive.
The Warriors coach was worried the excitement could get the better of his players and distract them from the job at hand.
Zimbabwe, who are the only country from COSAFA to have qualified for the 2017 AFCON finals, will go to the regional tournament as the team to beat and Pasuwa said his charges needed to realise the massive challenge in their hands.
“Everyone is happy, we are all excited. But we have been talking to the boys because after qualifying for AFCON, there is always that danger of having a negative attitude.
“We need to put our senses together and concentrate so that we get to the quarter-finals of this tournament. We will then take it up from there,” said Pasuwa.
Five players — Danny Phiri, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Talent Chawapihwa, Marshal Mudehwe and goalkeeper Donovan Bernard — are returning to the stage as they were part of the squad that took part at the previous edition in South Africa last year.
Some of the players in the squad like Tafadzwa Kutinyu, Teenage Hadebe, Nqobizitha Masuku, Farai Madhananga, Tatenda Mukuruva, Blessing Moyo, Lawrence Mhlanga and Ronald Pfumbidzayi could not take part last year as they were involved in the Olympic qualifiers with the national Under-23 side.
The technical team have also managed to bring on board veteran forward Obadiah Tarumbwa, who has reinvented himself in the domestic league, steely defender Elisha Muroiwa and midfielder King Nadolo, who is looking to make his national team debut.
They had also wanted other players like William Manondo, Mitchelle Katsvairo, Wisdom Mutasa and Hillary Bakacheza, but their clubs could not release them as they need them for the domestic league campaign which resumes this weekend.
Pasuwa said he was seized with the same problems which he faced last year when he was involved with the national Under-23 side for the Olympics qualifiers and the Africa Nations Championships.
“We talked to the clubs and some of the clubs were refusing (to release their players). From the list that I had called I only took 20 because they (the clubs) were saying they were going to play league games so they couldn’t afford to release them.
“As a coach you can’t complain, those are the players that I have been given. But you find that sometimes when we progress in some of these tournaments everybody would want to give me players.
I am saying when we are at the foundation stages of what we are doing we need every player who is supposed to be playing for the national team to be available.
“But again when we are having difficulties in terms of dealing with these problems, I can’t really do anything as a coach. Remember I have been having this problem with the Under-23 side and it’s still continuing,” said Pasuwa.
The Warriors will start their campaign at the COSAFA tournament from the preliminary round again this year. The Southern African title will be contested by 14 countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo who are coming in as a guest nation.
Zimbabwe will need to finish top in the preliminary round Group A which includes Swaziland, Seychelles and Madagascar to book a place in the quarter-finals.
Group B contains Malawi, Angola, Lesotho and Mauritius while holders Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique all got byes.
According to the tournament’s draw, if the Warriors manage to go past the preliminary round, they will face Zambia in the quarter-finals.
Pasuwa said the technical team has had a big task to work on the mental aspect of the team as they look to improve on last year’s poor run. The former DeMbare mentor was not part of the crew at the previous COSAFA tournament as he had delegated his assistant Saul Chaminuka while he attended to the Olympic qualifiers.
Zimbabwe failed to go past the first round when they lost the decisive group match to eventual winners Namibia. However, skipper Danny Phiri believes they are in a better frame of mind.
Phiri told The Herald that they would want to build on the momentum following the recent successes by the national team in the AFCON qualifiers.
“We can’t look at the past right now. The boys are in a good space right now and I think they are playing good football and hopefully we will get to the quarter-finals.
“We have got to build from what the AFCON team has done for us. We have to draw motivation from that,” said Phiri.
“Hopefully we will go there and come back with the cup. Pressure will always be there, but we need to go there and show that we can do it.”
Zimbabwe and Zambia are the most successful teams at the COSAFA tournament, having won four titles apiece while Angola and South Africa have won it thrice each.
Goalkeepers: Tatenda Mukuruva, Donovan Bernard, Nelson Chadya
Defenders: Teenage Hadebe, Bruce Kangwa, Farai Madhanhanga, Ronald Pfumbidzai, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Elisha Muroiwa, Blessing Moyo, Lawrence Mhlanga
Midfielders: Danny Phiri, Tatenda Mudehwe, Nqobizitha Masuku, King Nadolo, Raphael Manuvire, Tafadzwa Kutinyu,
Strikers: Talent Chawapihwa, Obidiah Tarumbwa, Charlton Mashumba