Petros Kausiyo in RUBAVU, Rwanda
WARRIORS coach Callisto Pasuwa has warned his charges against giving too much respect to their eternal rivals Zambia when they clash in an African Nations Championship Group D opener at Umuganda Stadium here tomorrow.
The two sides have fought many battles in the past but Pasuwa believes tomorrow’s showdown (kick-off 3pm) could set the tone for the Warriors’ campaign in this CHAN tournament and the Zimbabwe coach emphasised the need for his men to fight from start to finish.
Pasuwa’s men flew into Rwanda in two batches with the bulk of them, including the coach and 18 players, arriving here late on Saturday and the remainder touching down yesterday morning. After giving his troops some time to rest from their absorbing flights which took them via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the first group, and Lusaka and Nairobi for the second batch, as well as the three-hour road trip around the hills and mountains from Kigali to Rubavu, the Warriors had their first feel of the match venue later in the afternoon.
The Warriors also have to quickly adjust to the tricky weather conditions of Rubavu characterised by rains, mostly in the mornings and at night, has bright sunshine in the afternoon and a cool breeze in the early evening.
Fortunately for the Warriors, their first workout since their arrival in Rubavu was a session at the match venue — a newly-constructed 5 000-seater stadium.
As Zimbabwe trained on the match surface, the Zambians who were the first team in the Group to arrive in Rwanda on Thursday were having their session just outside on the other official training pitch allocated by the Confederation of African Football.
Pasuwa said he had once again reminded his players not to read too much into how thorough Chipolopolo have gone about their preparations and neither should they feel intimidated by the presence of some of the experienced players the Zambians have, such as one of the heroes of their 2012 African Cup of Nations triumph, Chris Katongo.
The 44-year-old Warriors mentor spoke to his charges about the need to adjust to a smaller pitch and to be cautious against an opponent boasting some players with experience of African football.
“It is a very compact pitch and we have been talking to the players about it that with such a pitch you need a lot of movement and combination play.
“But we are happy with the surface even though there is a difference in the bounce of the ball but we have observed that this surface is far much better than the one at Rufaro.
“Tactically we have to put behind the fact that we never played a friendly and make sure we do not throw everything at them without seeing how they are also playing and adjusting our game accordingly.
“But we really have to be compact. After a tiresome journey you could feel for these boys but we have done our recovery sessions and we will keep working on their mentality too.
“It is often said that when acclimatising you really feel the effects from the third day onwards and it is my hope that since our third day here will be match day, it will not affect these players.
“I think in terms of preparations Zambia were ahead of everyone in the group but for us that is no longer much of an issue, we will cautiously assess how we progress from here because our mission is to progress from the group,’’ Pasuwa said.
The Warriors coach said he wants his men to play a compact game in order to close down on such players like Katongo who have also previously played outside Africa.
“Zambia may use the experience of their players to utilise some pockets of space and these seasoned players know what and when not to do certain things on the pitch.
“But we are saying they have got the experience yes but we should not look at names, we just have to go out there and fight hard because we know the importance of this match in building our confidence and how we will proceed from there,’’ said Pasuwa.
To their relief the Warriors, whose preparations were also stalked by injuries, have not had any further casualties so far among the 23 men who made the grade to represent their country on Zimbabwe’s record fourth CHAN appearance. The only other team in the 16-nation tournament who have been to every CHAN competition are Democratic Republic of Congo who were the inaugural winners in Cote d’Ivoire in 2009.
Zimbabwe are in a cagey group that also includes West African giants Mali and East African soccer kings Uganda.
The Malian Eagles and the Cranes of Uganda will square off in the other Group D match.
But for Pasuwa it is the opening assignment against Chipolopolo that is uppermost on his mind at the moment as he knows the importance of avoiding defeat in their first group game.
Pasuwa was also on the touchline in 2013 as the Warriors sensationally knocked out Zambia in Ndola in their final qualifier for the 2014 CHAN tournament. Then Pasuwa was Ian Gorowa’s assistant and the former Dynamos pair was to also combine wits as they guided the Warriors to a fourth place finish at the 2014 tournament in Cape Town, South Africa.
Tomorrow, Pasuwa begins another CHAN adventure, this time as head coach of a technical crew that includes his assistants Saul Chaminuka, Nation Dube and veteran goalkeepers’ coach Richard Tswatswa.
Two of his players — skipper Zvirekwi and his CAPS United teammate Joel Ngodzo — each have a CHAN tournament under their belts.
Zvirekwi is the only survivor now from the 2014 tournament following the withdrawal because of injury of captain Danny Phiri while Ngodzo makes a return to this competition which is reserved only for those players playing in their domestic leagues, having last featured in at the second edition — in 2011, under Madinda Ndlovu.
Pasuwa said he was happy with the quality of the artificial turf.