OUR Mighty Warriors stand on the threshold of glory, with a golden chance to win back-to-back COSAFA Women Championship titles, when they meet old rivals Banyana Banyana of South Africa in the final at Barbourfields tomorrow.
It’s a repeat of the last final when this regional tournament was last held six years ago, with our senior national women football team defeating the South Africans in that game to be crowned champions of Southern Africa.
The meeting of the two teams also provides another confirmation, if ever one was needed, that Zimbabwe and South Africa remain the torchbearers when it comes to women football in Southern Africa, despite the vast improvements we have seen from a number of countries around us.
Last year, the Mighty Warriors and Banyana Banyana represented Africa at the Olympic Games in Brazil in what was a milestone moment for women football in the region, with our team having defied all the odds to knock out continental heavyweights Cameroon in the final qualifier.
The two teams were also at the African Women Championships, held in Cameroon, in another show of their pedigree and tomorrow they fight for the right to be called the champions of Southern Africa.
It’s not going to be an easy match for either side, but then, that is what we expect when the fight reaches this stage and there is gold at stake and it is our hope that, at the end of it all, our Mighty Warriors will triumph.
They might have shown some shortcomings in the group stages, where they finished second behind Zambia and only qualified for the semi-finals by virtue of being the best runners-up, but we expected something like that in this transitional phase for the team.
After all, the team is now under a new coach, Sithethelelwe “Kwinji 15” Sibanda, who replaced Shadreck Mlauzi and came on board with new ideas of how the Mighty Warriors should go about their business in their quest for greatness in international football.
Sibanda charmed the ZIFA leadership when she came out top of her class, in which she was the only female participant, in the CAF A Licence course that finished in Harare in February, making history as the first local woman to hold the highest coaching badge on the domestic scene.
She had also impressed as the assistant coach at Premiership side Tsholotsho and watching the Mighty Warriors play these days, it’s clear there is a certain pattern, which is refreshing to the eye, in which they go about their business and they are quickly turning into a better team under Sibanda’s tutelage.
Of course, this is just the beginning, because this is her first tournament in charge of the team and the more that she spends time with the players, and the more they continue to understand her tactics and ways of ambushing opponents, the better this team is likely to get.
Their 4-0 crushing victory over guest nation Kenya, who had impressed many as they topped their group, in the semi-finals at Barbourfields on Thursday, was as impressive as it could have ever come and clearly our team has been getting better with each passing game and stronger as the tournament progresses.
The defence, which had looked shaky in the group matches, conceding three goals against Malawi in that final group game which ended 3-3, was a pillar of strength against the East Africans, showing that a lot had been put into ensuring that vital department performs to expectations.
The return of Marjory Nyaumwe for the semi-final was also a huge boost and she showed why she remains a key member of this team by scoring one of the goals as the Mighty Warriors enjoyed a goal-feast at Barbourfields.
But, clearly, the star of the show has been Rutendo Makore, who has scored nine goals in the tournament so far, and a lot is expected of her tomorrow for our team to leap the remaining hurdle and celebrate the joy of being champions.
Pressure is on the Mighty Warriors, after the Warriors ended years of under-achievement in the COSAFA Castle Cup by powering to success in South Africa, where our players dominated the awards — winning the Player of the Tournament and Golden Boot — to ensure that they also give the nation something to cheer its spirits by winning tomorrow.
A full house is expected at Barbourfields tomorrow after a huge crowd, all supporting the Mighty Warriors, turned up for their semi-final showdown against Kenya and were treated to four goals and an eye-catching show by our players.
We have to thank the people of Bulawayo for showing such patriotism and this should also tell ZIFA officials that the Warriors should not always play in Harare, but some of their big games, in the AFCON and World Cup, should also be taken to the City of Kings and Queens because the game has a lot of support down there.
South Africa showed a remarkable never-say-die spirit to come back from three goals down to beat Zambia in the semi-finals and they are a tough side, but we are confident that if our players get it right, and don’t let the occasion overwhelm them, they have the quality to be champions tomorrow.