Petros Kausiyo in RUBAVU, RWANDA
ZIMBABWE Warriors coach Callisto Pasuwa has emphasised the importance of getting their 2016 CHAN finals campaign on a winning note, when they take on neighbours Zambia, in the first game of Group D at Umuganda Stadium this afternoon.
The Warriors are yet to win an opening game at the CHAN finals since they started their dance at this tournament in Cote d’Ivoire in 2009.
But Pasuwa, who has blended the bulk of his Under-23 side with some experienced players, believes his team could finally get it right in their tough battle against Chipolopolo.
The match is the first in the double header at the Umuganda Stadium with Uganda and Mali then battling in the later match.
“We have not won the first match in the past but this is 2016 and we are hoping to do better in terms of our performance in the first match,” Pasuwa told The Herald yesterday.
“Unlike in previous competitions we have more Under-23 players and this first game is very crucial to them because these are youngsters and if they can win this first game then we know where we are going.
“This is also continuation of the work we started in Cape Town and we are hoping to do better and use our CHAN experience to effect.”
Pasuwa said he was expecting yet another close battle today.
“If you look at our matches against Zambia, there have been many of them but most of them have either been draws or whoever wins, wins it 1-0,’’ said Pasuwa.
Hardlife Zvirekwi was handed the armband following the withdrawal of Danny Phiri, through injury also backed his coach and declared his troops’ intent on securing a winning start.
The 28-year-old CAPS United right back said he was also ready for the extra responsibility that comes with the captaincy of one’s senior national team.
“As captain of the team I carry a big responsibility on and off the field and I have to inspire the guys, motivate them when we are down and encourage them when we are doing well and I have to keep communicating and I think I am to the task.
“The coach has also been working on the players’ mentality.
“We have to change our approach to the first games of the tournament because previously we have been slow starters and putting too much emphasis on caution at first and wanting to pick up later.
“We have to start on a high this time around and I am happy we have some experienced players like Ocean Mushure who have made my job easier when discussing with some of the younger players that we have the national pride at stake,’’ Zvirekwi said.
Pasuwa also underlined his bid to get a winning start by trying an offensive side at training and if yesterday’s final session is anything to go by then then forceful Harare City striker Francisco Zekumbawire will lead the line of attack.
That forward line will also have Premiership Golden Boot award winner Knox Mutizwa, Chicken Inn’s Edmore Chirambadare and Harare City newboy Ronald Chitiyo.
Highlanders midfielder Nqobizitha Masuku, who could partner Gerald Takwara in the dual holding role, has a penchant for forward runs as are wing backs Ocean Mushure and Zvirekwi.
But with Chipolopolo calling on two of their most experienced players Isaac Chansa and captain Christopher Katongo, Pasuwa could yet go with former Flame Lily midfield hardman Farai Madhanhanga who rarely ventures forward.
Pasuwa is aware of the threat posed by the vastly experienced Katongo and warned his defenders against giving the 34-year-old striker too much room.
In fact Pasuwa was worried during training since arrival in Rwanda that his charges were still a shade slower in closing in on their opponents.
How Mine goalminder Donovan Bernard has edged Dynamos’ Tatenda Mukuruva for the Number One spot with Pasuwa opting for some continuity in his CHAN squad.
Bernard kept goal in all the CHAN qualifying matches against Comoros and Lesotho.
Dynamos centre-back Elisha Muroiwa and Chicken Inn’s Lawrence Mhlanga should compete the cast that will start the battle against the Zambians.
The Warriors will also face Mali and then wrap up their pool assignments against the Uganda Cranes.
But there is no doubting that clashes between Zimbabwe and Zambia, provide a lot of intrigue and Pasuwa and his Chipolopolo counterpart George Lwandimana revealed they were expecting a very close battle where very little will separate the two sides.
Probable Warriors line-up:
Donovan Bernard, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Ocean Mushure, Elisha Muroiwa,
Lawrence Mhlanga, Gerald Takwara, Nqobizitha Masuku, Ronald Chitiyo, Knox Mutizwa, Francisco Zekumbawire, Edmore Chirambadare