Petros Kausiyo in RUBAVU, Rwanda
WARRIORS’ assistant coach Saul Chaminuka was in defiant mood yesterday and declared that Zimbabwe were ready to overcome Mali and keep alive their interests in the ongoing African Nations Championships here.
Zimbabwe and Mali will square off in the first of the second Group D matches at Umuganda Stadium tomorrow (kick-off 3pm) with Uganda and Zambia wrapping up the proceedings at 6pm.
The Warriors, traditional slow starters to the CHAN tournament, have found themselves with more work to do after they lost their opening Group match 1-0 to old enemies Zambia on Tuesday.
Isaac Chansa’s second half winner for Zambia ensured Zimbabwe would for the fourth CHAN competition fail to exercise the ghost of failing to win their opening match at this tournament that is reserved exclusively for players who are based in their national leagues.
So defiant is Chaminuka that he branded their match against Zambia as “the friendly match that we badly needed and only got at the tournament ’’but boldly declared that they would bounce back with a win over the Eagles.
It is the second time in as many CHAN tournaments that Zimbabwe and Mali will be clashing with the Warriors having prevailed 1-0 at the 2014 edition to knock the Eagles out at the quarter-finals stage.
Interestingly Zimbabwe and Uganda were also in the same group at the last CHAN tournament in Cape Town with the two sides fighting out a 0-0 draw.
The Cranes will be the Warriors’ last group opponents but Buffaloes gaffer Chaminuka naturally chose to turn his attention to their make or break tie against Mali first as their game against Uganda could yet be a dead rubber next week, should they lose tomorrow.
“I would not want to the think that the game against Zambia is still haunting us. That game was our first friendly and warm-up match since we didn’t have any.
“So we used that game to assess our grey areas and I must say after tasting what it means to be at this tournament, the squad is much focused and come Saturday we will pull through.
“From where I stand I believe we have a strong chance of winning and we know what we just have to do on Saturday.
“I am so optimistic that we are going to see through the end of this tournament and I am so positive that we are going to go through,’’ Chaminuka said.
If indications from their pulsating game against Uganda are anything then the Eagles are looking better than the class of 2014 and Chaminuka acknowledged that while he was confident of a Warriors triumph, he was also aware of the threat posed by the West Africans.
“They (Mali) are very physical and quick and they have players who can score goals as seen in their game against Uganda and other warm-up matches they played.
“But there are things that we saw about them which we cannot divulge at the moment and I have a strong feeling that the weaknesses that we saw of them can be fully exploited. We also have to tighten our defence and sharpen our attack.
“So whichever way you look at it some of things that we are working on perfecting now we could have done with that friendly match we needed.
“We have also drawn a lot of positives from our match against Zambia and one of them is that Zambia may have been on top on general possession but we were better in terms of positive possession.
“What they had was general possession which is keeping the ball for the sake of having it and we had the ball in the key areas and pressed them but, unfortunately, we failed to score on that day and now that we have had a feel of the international game, all that will be corrected by Saturday.
“It’s a pity we have another injury blow to Elisha Muroiwa but we have Stephen Makatuka and Blessing Moyo and both of them are fit to do duty that central defence.
“Like I said we have been watching how Mali have been doing and we have done our homework and I don’t think they will do something new from what we saw,’’ Chaminuka said.
The Malians also appear to be bracing for yet another tough Warriors assignment with their coach Djibril Drame still remembering how Ian Gorowa’s men sent them tumbling out of the 2014 tournament.
The Eagles coach noted that a lot had changed between the two teams since their last meeting and is hopeful of better fortunes this time around.
“We had been working for three weeks and I’m happy with our performance (against Uganda). T
he first game is always important and to have a point is better than nothing,” Drame said.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe skipper Hardlife Zvirekwi believes the Warriors have firmly put behind them the pain and shock of their African Nations Championships opening day defeat by Zambia and believe they can draw on the positives and turn on the magic in their remaining group assignments.
The Warriors must now avoid defeat in their second Group D match against Mali at Umuganda Stadium here tomorrow if they are to stay in contention in the tournament before they complete their pool assignments with a clash against East African soccer kings.
Zambia will face Uganda in the other Group D match with Chipolopolo looking to become the first team in the pool to qualify for the quarter-finals should they keep intact their 100 percent record in this tournament.
But there is no doubting that coach Calisto Pasuwa and his men were left under pressure to get a result and now face a very tricky scenario where they will have little margin for error after they failed to pick a point on the group’s opening day assignments here on Tuesday.
Zvirekwi, handed the responsibility of leading the team at this CHAN competition, was one of the Warriors’ better players against Zambia but found himself ending on the losing note in the first game.
But the CAPS United right back said his troops had reviewed their game against Zambia and spoken about it and were now working on forcing a come-back and possibly secure a quarter-final place.
“I think the guys have now let bygones be bygones and we are rectifying and polishing up on our act.
“We know that the stakes are high for the Mali game and as captain and with the help of the other senior players we have the bigger task of encouraging everyone in the team and help the coach to motivate them and I am happy with the attitude and the determination being shown by everyone.’’
Zvirekwi also said they had taken time to watch Mali playing against Uganda and reckoned they had made their observations and had as players discussed among themselves what they believe they need to do
The Warriors will go into the decisive battle without defensive rock Elisha Muroiwa who misses out because of a swollen eye sustained in the game against Chipolopolo.
Zvirekwi, however, said the Warriors had firmly set their sights on rescuing a campaign that had a false start.